Full Circle Catholic Faith Community

Archived Readings and Reflections

​Christmas 2018

FIRST READING:   A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah 9:2-7

In darkness, a light was born. From deep darkness, a crest of dawn shines.  You enlarged life, and Your people were born.  Even though they knew pain and suffering, You increased their joy.  They rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest, as children exult at play, and delight in sharing gifts.  For You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.  Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.  For unto us a baby is born.  For unto us a child is given on whose shoulders our future rests.  The child will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Strength of God, Everlasting One, Voice of Peace.  And of the peace the Child brings, there will be no end.

The Word of the Prophet Isaiah.  Thanks be to God.

SECOND READING:  A Reading from the Book of Hebrews 1:1-3, 6, 8-9

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways.  In these last days, God has spoken to us through Jesus, the Christ, heir of all things, and also through whom the cosmos was made.  This Cosmic Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and the fullness of God’s being, sustaining all things by a powerful word. After Jesus’ life and death, the Cosmic Christ filled the majesty of the heavens. When God brings a holy child into the world, God says:  “Let all God’s angels praise.”  About the Christ, God says:  “Your reign will last for ever and ever!  A scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kin-dom.  You have loved righteousness and shunned evil.  Therefore God, your God, has made you-in-all, anointing you with the oil of joy.”

The Word of an Early Church Apologist.  Thanks be to God.

GOSPEL:  Luke 2:1-20

In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David and Bathsheba. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was pledged to be married and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. She gave birth to her first born and wrapped the babe in bands of cloth.  She laid the newborn in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region, there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel, a messenger of God, stood before them. The glory of God shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.   The Gospel of our God.  Praise to You, Jesus the Christ.

Sermon:   “In darkness, a light was born.”  This is how Isaiah announces the birth of the Messiah—a light breaking through the darkness and despair of life. Alleluia.  Amen!  Merry Christmas! This language of darkness and life is not just a metaphor.  There is very real darkness in our lives.  Darkness that causes fear.  Darkness that causes us to doubt the meaning of life.  Darkness that kills.  We are living in an age when darkness is a regular part of life.  We have the darkness of a president gone amuck whose very life is one of ignorance and deceit, both which we associate with darkness. 

So I invite us on this Christmas celebration to try to understand why we are so touched and encouraged by the simple events of a woman giving birth in a cold cave or manger some 2,000 years ago.  Why does it matter? 

Since we are a church who tries to give voice to women, and especially the women of the Bible who have been silenced, whose lives were seen as unimportant, I wanted us to see Mary in a historical context, one that has been created through different lenses, based on Jewish archeology and Jewish history.

First, there’s the whole virgin birth issue.  Jewish religious have debated the belief that Mary was a virgin.  And of course, this is difficult to prove.  What they note is that Mary was not stoned; had she become pregnant and had no engagement, she would not have survived.  Jewish law is that strict.  So the engagement of Joseph was honored. Also, if Jesus had had an older brother or sister then we would know Mary was not a virgin.  There is evidence that Jesus had no older siblings; thus Mary could’ve been a virgin.  As for the divine conception of Jesus, little is said.  Still, it is remarkable that Jewish authorities (70 leading rabbis) have been willing to confirm that Mary was a virgin and not a “young maiden” as could’ve been translated instead.

Then, there’s the elements of the journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Joseph and Mary had to travel 90 miles to the city of Joseph's ancestors for the census.  That’s like going to Des Moines or Waterloo or Keokuk from Iowa City by donkey, remember.  Mary and Joseph would’ve gone south along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem. James F. Strange, a New Testament and biblical archeology professor at the University of South Florida says this: "It was a fairly grueling trip." "In antiquity, the most we find people traveling is 20 miles a day. And this trip was very much uphill and downhill. It was not simple."

Strange estimates that Joseph and Mary likely would have traveled only 10 miles a day because of Mary's impending delivery.   Rev. Peter Vasko, a Catholic priest and director of the Holy Land Foundation says that Mary and Joseph had to bring their own provisions. "In wineskins, they carried water, and they carried a lot of bread. .Breakfast would be dried bread, lunch would be oil with bread, and herbs with oil and bread in the evening."

And the trip through the Judean desert would have taken place during the winter, when "it's in the 30s during the day [and] rains like heck," said Strange. "It's nasty, miserable. And at night it would be freezing." Some have asked, “What was Mary thinking?” seeing as how she delivered Jesus one week after they left Nazareth.  She must’ve known this was likely.  Did she prepare for this?  Perhaps with extra clean cloth or other provisions.  And she was an obedient wife, trusting her husband and her God to provide for them, whatever the circumstances of her labor and delivery.

Luke doesn’t talk about where Mary delivered Jesus.  He doesn’t have the “no room in the Inn” message. .Instead, Luke moves quickly, saying, “While they were there….she delivered.” No details, nothing.  We are left to imagine the birth itself.  How did it happen? Some historians say that a small hamlet like Bethlehem wasn't large enough for a hotel. Most historians today think that Mary and Joseph were more likely guests in a home where there were two parts to the home: family quarters (upstairs), which is sometimes called an "inn," and animal quarters (downstairs) where the "manger" was.  Some believe that Mary wanted a private birth so went to the “manger area of the household” to deliver.  These are interesting details that we can’t prove. 

In the Book of James (which was omitted from the New Testament) he says that two midwives were present for Mary’s delivery. Authorities consider it unlikely that a young woman who had not borne children would have ended up alone during her birth. Labor, for a first-time mother, would have been 12-36 hours long and was a dangerous endeavor. Many women died. "There's another account of the Nativity . . . where it says that when it was time to have the baby, Joseph went out looking for a midwife.  In the Jewish tradition, women handled most medical issues so it’s quite possible that there was a Jewish midwife or woman nearby who could help.

The other reason why there had to be other women there is that other women would’ve noticed Mary’s advanced pregnancy and offered to help.  Women would’ve helped to encourage Mary with her breathing and her pain, ensuring that this would not end in death but in life.  I picture several women, one holding a candle for light, one rushing to get warm water off the fire, and another at Mary’s side, guiding her through her labor.  Women help other women, especially at momentous times such as this.

In that darkness there was great risk: What if the baby were breech?  What if Mary’s contractions weren’t strong enough?  What if bleeding started that couldn’t be stopped?  And what if there were infection, perhaps the greatest risk of all.  Jon said that in some countries, people used dirt to care for the umbilical cord, which led to tetanus for the infant.  And yet Mary and Jesus survive. 

A successful journey through the dangers and miracles of conception, carrying a pregnancy, and giving birth are seen as direct evidence for divine support. The authors of the Hebrew Bible recognized that giving birth and undergoing crisis are both existential human events, where a threshold is crossed into either life or death.  So the metaphor of birth is often used to signify great causes; great victories for men and women.  Thanks be to God and to those who helped Mary and Joseph in the darkness.

When we are in darkness, we long for a touch, a reassuring word or a light of guidance.  These are feminine responses to fear.  Mary had gone through such darkness and had the benefit of care and concern.  She now becomes a model for how to support those who live in fear.  Mary was grounded in love.  Mary knew how to be compassionate, to be with others in their pain, just as she was accompanied in her pain.  She learned that it is love that brings light and hope amidst despair and pain.

Mary teaches us at Christmas that love is the only authentic response to darkness and fear.  Power and violence are not true solutions; they simply mask the fear or further move it to anger.  What is most needed to help calm and reassure is simple acts of kindness, tenderness, a caring gesture from one human being to another.  This is what Mary provides for us.  The quiet, gentle image of a person enduring the darkness, laboring through the unknown and trusting that light will come, that truly the darkness will end in goodness. 

So, yes we celebrate Jesus as our Savior, the Messiah who will teach us the way.  And we celebrate Mary, his mother, who taught Jesus by her example of love to help dispel the darkness of life. Whenever we light a candle or turn on a light may we be reminded of how our actions can birth light for one another.   May our Christmas celebration be one of hope for the New Year, one where we renew our faith in a God who is immersed in our humanness and transforms our darkness into light.  Merry Christmas.

DECEMBER 9, 2018

SERMON: LUKE 1: 26-38                                               

BY NICK SMITH

The Second Vatican Council adopted this position on Mary:  Mary is the woman in the service of others—of God, Christ, the Church, redemption—and the ultimate meaning of history.  She has no theological meaning of her own: she is the co-redemptrix, co-mediatrix, prototype of Church, full of grace after Christ; she is the symbol of new being, she recapitulates [i.e. restates briefly] eschatological [i.e. end of the world] history inaugurated by Christ.” 

The principal difficulty with this image of Mary is that she has been used in Church spirituality as icon, ideal and role-model for all women: the ideal of virgin-mother, which is impossible for ordinary people. The patriarchal interpretation of virgin motherhood has been disastrous: it has limited the vocations of women to that of motherhood in both a biological and spiritual sense. It has served as a stumbling block toward the discovery and achievement of self-affirmation for real women.  Women are to emulate the purity of the Immaculate Mary: to serve unseen, as supposedly Mary did, during the hidden Nazareth years. 

This idealized relational language about Mary perpetuated by the Church has forever kept women as the passive, submissive, inferior other.  We need to discover the real Mary through her relationships both personally and spiritually. To see in Mary an ideal image of woman, does not correspond to a concrete reality, and is dangerous. Mary, like it or not, cannot be an ideal. Using Mary as a model of “spiritual” womanhood in contrast to “normal” womanhood puts women in an untenable position within the Church, limiting female “gifts” to child baring, floor scrubbing, cooking and dish washing.

Mary’s significance should be found in her involvement in God’s redemptive plan, not in her divinity. Christ had to be born of a woman. Mary was that woman. The early Christian fathers lost sight of that fact when they named Mary the Mother of God in an attempt to ward off polytheism and explain the humanity of Christ. Intellectualizing Mary as a divine icon, rather than emphasizing her role in the Christian movement led ultimately to the loss of her personhood as a real woman and a disciple of Christ.

Let me illustrate what I mean.  Peter was called to be a disciple of Christ.  In his story, he is allowed to have his personhood with all his faults, doubts and mistakes. He has a temper; he fights; he denies Jesus, not once but three times.  He displays a less than perfect picture of a believer, yet he comes back to and remains a disciple of Christ. He is depicted as being human—just a man stumbling along to understand the way of Jesus.  I can relate to him because I am also an imperfect man attempting to find the way of Jesus.  Mary, on the other hand, was called to be the mother of the Messiah, birther of God. Mary became perfect in the liturgy of the Church, removing her intellectually from the realm of personhood to that of spiritual icon, spiritual ideal, and the pyridine of womanhood.  Who can relate with that elevated image? 

The activity of the Spirit and the virginal conception was misunderstood as “removed,” “apart from,” the created order.  The relationship between spirit and flesh, between the natural and the supernatural reduced the “spirit” to the intellect. Such separation and reductionism easily led to contempt for women and an  “apartheid theology.”

 Luke gets it right, and I’ll tell you why.  Mary, from the beginning, fulfills the criteria of discipleship. The first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel are composed as a “prelude to Pentecost.” Mary appears for the last time in the midst of the community waiting and praying for the Holy Spirit: “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14).  According to Luke, what was experienced as the Spirit’s overpowering in the upper room in Jerusalem had already begun 30 years before in the Galilean village of Nazareth.  God’s messenger “enters” into the daily life of a young woman hardly more than 12 years old who is engaged to a carpenter. From now on God’s revelation no longer occurs in the priestly cult, but in the daily events that rank very low in society.

Mary has a question: “How can this happen”?  The angelic proclamation sounds an important theme in Luke’s theology: the reversal of all values in a new world where the gospel will be preached to the poor. This theme permeates Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth and the upper room disciples preaching at Pentecost—all one hundred and twenty of them, both male and female. This theological redemption is revealed at Pentecost by the “outpouring of the Spirit over all flesh.” The angel’s answer to Mary’s “how” question needs a parallel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you ....” God’s Spirit comes upon Mary (as it did upon the community in Acts 2 at Pentecost) as an “overshadowing” cloud; an image that points to God’s presence. This Holy Spirit is the power of God who creates something new and sets it in motion.  

It is the human Mary that Christians need to see, not the goddess Mary.  I’m not saying that the spiritual image of Mary in Church theology is not true; I’m saying that more of the human side of Mary would have really changed the world, especially for women over the last 2,000 years.  Mary isn’t a virgin because virginity is more holy. She is a virgin because Mary is the visible unity of all women: single, married, divorced, widowed. Mary is the first Christian. She is close to us and understandable. She is not the Mary who has been dogmatized beyond recognition. 

Mary—a young woman in a patriarchal society - carried and brought her child into the world. She did not do it in an angelic manner (as the theologians maintain), but in the manner of poor people, without the security of a home. For Luke, Mary is a real human woman who willingly takes part in God’s plan for salvation—nothing more and nothing less.

 She is not a woman who wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. She is not a blond, blue-eyed European fashion model.  No, Mary is a person.  I’d like to call her the Blessed Valorious Mary because of her numerous acts of valor and bravery at the risk of her own life.  She wears home-spun clothing, is, at best, five foot tall, has one gold earring and a gold ring in her nose, both from her dowry.  Her hair is jet black and her skin is olive brown.  She utters poetry fit for a political rally, she fearlessly faces death and scorn, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, gives birth to a child, flees her homeland to become a refugee, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, holds her family together as a single parent, demands that Jesus fix a wine supply problem at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. Mary follows Jesus all the way to the Cross—not just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers desert him. She is there in the upper room at Pentecost, receives the Holy Spirit and joins the other disciples in spreading the good news of the resurrection. 

She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it. Mary is not the passive, subservient, fragile China-doll person she has been portrayed as by the Church. The Mary of Christian tradition is one more reminder of the way in which no woman can live up to the image of perfection - perpetual virgin/perfect mother - created by centuries of male theologians. What can speak to us, though, is Mary’s personhood.  We should allow Mary, the mother of Jesus, to shine forth in our minds as a real person—just like us.

November 28, 2018

​Sermon by Nick Smith

John 18:33-37                  

For those of you who follow the lectionary, today is the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, begins a new lectionary cycle. Today is called Christ the King—probably one of the most direct contradictions of Jesus as we could find to celebrate.  In my research, l learned that Christ the King is a fairly new development in the church.  Pope Pius Xl brought Christ the King Sunday into the church’s liturgical in 1925.

I think it is interesting that in the gospel account, when Jesus is asked if he is king of the Jews, he avoids the question. He asks if Pilate is asking this based on what others have told him. Later, Jesus talks about his kingdom being from another world. So Pilate picks up on that and says, “So you are a king?" But then Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king.”—not me.  Jesus isn't comfortable with this term. In fact, he never calls himself a king. It’s others who call him a king. After feeding the 5,000, the crowd insisted on making Jesus their king, but Jesus withdrew from them to a mountain. Jesus rejected the whole idea of being a king and calls us also to reject this idea and to think of ourselves as being servants to others, not superiors.
 

Some call today the Sunday of Jesus the Servant-- and rightly so.  Jesus tried so hard to help his followers understand that he came not to dominate but to serve. Jesus chose to associate with all sorts of people, not just those who had power and money. In fact, he tended to be with people who didn't have power—women, children, the poor and the outcasts. What kind of a king surrounds himself with those types of people?

Christ’s life and death on the cross are the supreme examples of his commitment to being a servant. There are several passages of scripture within the Bible that define the servant role of Jesus.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45
“…I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. – John 6:38
“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” – Luke 22:27
One of the strongest examples of the servant attitude of Jesus is when he washes his disciples’ feet in John, chapter 13.
This afternoon then, we are called to celebrate this Feast of Christ the Savior; I think we must acknowledge that in so many ways, this idea of Jesus being a king goes against the genuine way of Jesus because he rejected power over others. He wanted to be the servant of all. He rejected excessive wealth; he wanted everyone to share in the goods of the world that God made for all, and not for a few. Above all, Jesus rejected violence. He chose the way of suffering and death, showing forth love for those who were doing this to him. We must recognize that Jesus does not act according to the ways of the world. He brings about the reign of God, which is where God's ways permeate our ways, God's thoughts becomes our thoughts, and this way leads to the fullness of life, peace in this world, and peace forever.

The church is very attached to its hierarchies. It loves its leaders to dress up and parade around. It loves to be ‘established’ and part of the fabric of our nation. It loves to feel still important, valued and influential. Now don’t get me wrong! I’ve see how the church (and the other faith groups) can make a real and lasting difference to the lives of so many people and communities. The church can be inspirational. But, at the same time, it’s still very much in love with the notion that the best way of understanding what Christianity is about is through the idea of the kingdom.  The church has found itself too closely modelling the earthly kingdoms by encouraging an understanding of authority as power ‘over’ other people rather than the original notion of authority as ‘nurturing’ or ‘training.’ By encouraging deference and submission, rather than empowering people to discover spiritual maturity and wisdom for themselves; by closely guarding faith from all questioning, change, and on-going inspiration and by promoting particular understandings of ‘respectable’ lifestyle, identity and behavior, the Church has become a kingdom for itself.

 We have been using Kin-dom here at Full Circle for a very long time, and it is a good word and better reflects the kind of society Jesus envisions—as a shared community of equals who serve each other. The Apostle Paul planted small house churches, and when he wrote to them, he called them adelphoi [ADEL-FOY]—sisters and brothers—united in a kin-group not by blood but in a common loyalty to Jesus. To these tiny outposts, Paul promises the coming victory of God over all other empires, through the return of Jesus.

Our objective as Christians is to be servants to all. There is no hierarchy of power, potency, and prestige in the Kin-dom of Christ. In His Kin-dom, worth is measured from the bottom up. Christ is as much in those the world calls the least and the littlest; the frail and the forgotten; the abused and the abandoned as He is anyone else.  The real purpose of God is to build Kin-dom, globally and internationally, between different religions, between friends and enemies, between ourselves and those we never speak too, and with all those who are different from us.

The Jewish authorities, because of their hardened hearts, and their legalistic and ritualistic zeal for works, were blind to their need for spiritual deliverance and the true righteousness of God, which must be born into the heart. That is what led them to ask this of Jesus: "And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God comes not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kin-dom of God is within you."

The Kin-dom of Jesus Christ is the place where God reigns in the hearts of people. God reigns now in our hearts, and one day God’s reign will be over all the earth, but for now, God has a family. If you will, you may call them "His kin." We have a forever family. Kin-dom is a word that reflects the kin of the God, or in other words, God’s believers.  Christians are united in a family of people who share a common loyalty to God. 

 In the end, I come full circled to the kin-dom of God. It signifies that we are all interrelated (kin) and that as family; we are relationally joined through Jesus the Christ. Our related-ness is our prominent characteristic. What defines us? It is our connection to the divine/transcendent/reality in which we live and move and have our being.

I hope that we can reflect deeply on these truths about Jesus, and as we celebrate this Eucharist, recognize that what we're doing is making present on our altar the life -- the sufferings, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

So on this, the last Sunday of the church year, take a moment and ask yourself, how did I follow Christ, who redefined what it means to be a king? How did I draw on the Circle for support on my journey? How did I support others on their journey to follow the servant leader? Happy Feast of Christ the Servant Sunday!

Nov. 18, 2018  Soweto and the Apocalypse

FIRST  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Book  of  Daniel 12:1b,  3

A messenger  from  God,  a  human  figure spoke  to  Daniel  in  a  vision:  “A time  of  unsurpassed  distress  is  coming, a  time  of  anguish, such  as  has  never  been  known  since  nations  first  came  to  be.    “Yet,  the  wise  will shine  brightly, like  the  splendor  of  the  night  sky. Those  who  guide the  people  to  justice,  will  shine forever,  like  the  stars.”

A  vision  of  a  Judean  Sage  and  Prophet. Thanks  be  to  God

SECOND READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Book Hebrews10:32-39

Remember  the  days  past  when,  after  you  had  been  enlightened,  you  endured  a  great  contest  of  suffering.  At  times, you  were  publicly  exposed  to  abuse  and  affliction.  At  other  times, you  associated  yourselves  with  those  so  treated.  You  even  joined  in  the  sufferings  of  those  in  prison.  You  joyfully  accepted  the  confiscation  of  your  property,  knowing  that  you  had  a  better  and lasting  possession.    Therefore,  do not  throw  away  your  confidence!    It will  have  great  recompense.  You  need  endurance  to  fulfill  the  desire  of  God’s  heart and  receive  the  promise:“After just  a  brief  moment, the  One  who  is  to  come  will come, and will not  delay.  Those  who  are  just  live  by  faith.  In those  who  draw  back,  I  take  no  pleasure.” We  are  not  among  those  who  draw  back  and  perish,  but  among  those  who  have  faith  and  will  possess  life.  

The  Word  of  an  early  church  pastor  and  theologian.

GOSPEL:  A  Reading  from  the  Gospel  attributed to  Mark13:1-32

As  Jesus  was  leaving  the  Temple,  one  of  his  disciples  said,  “Look,  Rabbi,  what  large  stones  and  what  grand  buildings!”    Jesus  asked,  “Do  you  see  these  great  buildings?    Not  one  stone  will  be  left  here  upon  another;  all  will  be  thrown  down.” When  Jesus  was  sitting  across  from  the  Temple,  on  the  Mount  of  Olives,  Peter,  James, John,  and  Andrew questioned  him, discreetly.    “Tell  us,  when  will  this  be,  and  what  will  be  the  sign  that  all  these  things  are  about  to  happen?”  Jesus  began  to  tell  them,  “Beware  that  no  one  deceives  you.    Many  will  come  using  my  name  and  say,  ‘Here  I  am!’    They  will  mislead many  through  deception.    When  you  hear  of  wars  and  rumors  of  wars,  do  not  be  alarmed.  This  is  something  that  must  happen,  but  the  end  will  be  yet  to come.    Nation will  fight  against  nation.  Empire will  fight  against  empire.    There  will  be  earthquakes  in various  places.  There  will  be  famines.  This  is  the  beginning  of  birth-pangs. “You  must  be  on  your  guard.  You  will  be  handed  over  to  the  local  councils  and  flogged  in  the  synagogues.  On  account  of  me ,you  will  stand  before  governors  and  rulers  as  witnesses  to  them.  The Gospel  must  be  preached  to  all!

“Whenever  you  are  arrested  and  brought  to  trial,  do  not  worry  beforehand  about  what  you  are  going  to  say.  Just  say  whatever  is  given  you  at  the  time.    The  Holy  Spirit  will  speak  through  you.“  Siblings  will  betray  each  other  to  death,  and  parents  their  children.    Children  will  rebel  against  their  parents  and  have  them  put  to  death.    Everyone  will  hate  you  because  of  me.  The one  who  perseveres to  the  end  will  be  made  whole.“  When  you  see  ‘the  abomination  that  causes  desolation’  standing  where  it  does  not  belong—let  the  reader  understand—then  let  those  who  are  in  Judea  flee  to  the  mountains.  Let  no  one  on  the  housetop  go  down  or  enter  the  house  to  take  anything  out.    Let  no  one  in  the  field  go  back  to  get  their  coat. How  dreadful  it  will  be  in  those  days  for  pregnant  women  and  nursing  mothers!  Pray  that  this  will  not  take  place  in  winter,  because  those  will  be  days  of  distress  unequaled  from  the  beginning,  when  God  created  the  world,  until  now—and  never  to  be  equaled  again.“ If  God had  not  cut  short  those  days,  no  one  would  survive.  For  the  sake  of  the  chosen,  God has  shortened  them. At  that  time, if  anyone  says  to  you,  ‘Look,  here  is  the  Messiah!’  or,  ‘Look, over there!’  do  not  believe  it.  False  messiahs  and  false  prophets  will  appear  and  perform  signs  and  wonders  to  deceive,  if  possible,  even  the  chosen.  Be  on  your  guard!  I  have  told  you  everything  ahead  of  time.

In  those  days,  following  that  distress, the  sun  will  be  darkened, the  moon  will  not  give  its  light, the  stars  will  fall  from  the  sky, and  the  heavenly  bodies  will  be  shaken.  “At  that  time, people  will  see  the  Human  One come in  clouds, with  great  power  and  glory.  Angels will  be  sent to  gather  the  chosen  ones from  the  four  winds,  from  the  ends  of  the  earth  to  the  ends  of  the  heavens.“ Take  the  fig  tree  as  a  parable  and  learn  its  lesson. As  soon  as  its  twigs  get  tender  and  its  leaves  come  out,  you  know  that  summer  is  near. In  the  same  way,  when  you  see  these  things  happening,  you  know  that the  one  coming  into  the  world is  near,  right  at  the  door.    This  generation  will not  pass  away  until  all  these  things  have  happened.    The  heavens  and  the  earth,  the  whole  cosmos,  will  pass  away,  but  my  words  will  never  pass  away.  “As for that  day  or  hour,  no  one  knows it; neither the  angels  in  heaven,  nor  the  one  born  of  God.  Only  God  knows,  and  God  alone.”  The  Gospel  of  Our  God

Sermon:  Today’s gospel is called the Little Apocalypse which seems to be an oxymoron of a word.  Apocalypse is typically world-ending catastrophe and is never “little.”  It can also be a revelation but rarely have I heard it used that way.  Mark’s intent was not to discourage people but to encourage them.  They were in the midst of persecution and Mark is telling them to hang on, to trust and to believe that God will prevail.  God will give them the words to justify them and they will be saved.

These are big ideas, Martin Luther king like pronouncements, words that are meant to rally their audience.  Which is what happens when people are oppressed.  Someone among them rises up to encourage and to inspire.  The Soweto Gospel Choir does just that.  For those of you who were able to attend their performance last Sunday, you felt this.  They were able by their movement and voices to stir a group of privileged affluent white folks to move, to feel, to become more passionate about life.  Did you notice all the colors?  Beauty is so important during dark times.  It’s probably why we send flowers at funerals or when people are sick.  We are hoping to cheer them with color and beauty.  The Soweto Choir knows this.  They used such beautiful colors in their clothes and in the back drop on stage.  This is evidence that they too have experienced the joy and renewal of color, of beauty.  Towards the end of their performance, they asked us to stand up and to wave our arms as we sang along with them.  Thankfully, the crowd complied and once we started, we couldn’t stop.   They moved us from passivity and complacency to joy and respect and feelings of pride. 

This was a lived response to what the Soweto people have endured. Because of their history, they are a people who have been oppressed and are now redeemed.  It made me want to know more about their past. So I discovered that Soweto is a 'township' in South Africa, just southwest of Johannesburg, with a population of approximately 1.3 million.  Soweto was created in the 1930s when the white government started separating Blacks from Whites.  Blacks were moved away from Johannesburg, to an area separated from the White suburbs. Soweto became the largest Black city in South Africa, but until 1976 those living there were only seen as temporary residents, who served mostly as workers for the Whites in Johannesburg.  Apartheid or separateness began in 1948 by the National Party, an all-white government.  For me, apartheid was simply a word, not an experience.  For the South African people, it meant oppression, inequality and suffering. 

Nelson Mandela began fighting for equality in college.  He began as a non-violent protestor until 69 blacks were killed during a protest.  Then, he was arrested during another protest and sentenced to life in prison.  After 27 years, in 1990, he was released by Prime Minister de Clerk who had begun the process of changing the laws.  By 1994, Apartheid ended.  The beloved Madiba (his clan name) was free and able to speak about his love for his people and his homeland.  He served as president from 1994 to 1999 and spoke world-wide for peace.  Mandela died in 2013 but continues to live on in the hearts of his people.  Many times, the Soweto choir members raised their hands in a symbolic gesture of struggle and respect, defiance and solidarity and ultimately freedom from oppression. 

Did you know that the RCWP movement has an important link to apartheid in South Africa?  One of our first priests, Patricia Fresen, then made bishop was from South Africa and lived in a Dominican convent.  Patricia was one of the lead teachers who determined that they would break the unjust law of not teaching Black children.  There are lovely photos of her smiling with these beautiful children.  It was there that Patricia developed the mantra, “Laws that are unjust must be broken.”  Patricia was arrested by the police and tells her story in the documentary “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican.”  Eventually she was released.  After apartheid ended, she realized that the Catholic church’s exclusion of women was just like the exclusion of Blacks in South Africa; it was unjust and needed to be changed.  Because of this, her Dominican community ousted her.  She was 63 at the time.  Other heroic women provided her a salary and a home.  It was in 2007 when I heard her speak and became aware of my call.  That was my little apocalypse and I will forever respect and admire Patricia for her prophetic “yes” to God’s call.

Henri Nouwen is the author of the book, The Wounded Healer.  He writes that it is because of our scars that we become passionate about change in our lives and in our world.  The Soweto Gospel Choir are wounded healers that resonate with all people who have suffered.  And all of us have suffered in some way.  Rather than allowing that hurt to stop us, for fear to keep us silent, we must help to redeem that pain and move forward, reaching into the pain of each other’s lives to transform it. 

         This is a time of giving thanks, of harvest and of fallow fields.  I am so grateful for you and for this space and for the belief of our community that we can help change the world.  We need to discuss how we will spend our harvest in the next year.  How do we want to focus our energies and our talent?  As we give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, may we always link that to how we can give back, how we keep that little apocalypse burning within us, the fire that moves us beyond complacency and passivity.  What has your pain taught you?  How can it now be used for good?

 Thanksgiving Prayer

Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table.
From far and near we travel home,
Blessed that we are able.
Grateful for this sheltered place
With light in every window,
Saying welcome, welcome, share this feast
Come in away from sorrow.
Father, mother, daughter, son,
Neighbor, friend and friendless;
All together everyone in the gift of loving-kindness.
Grateful for what’s understood,
And all that is forgiven;
We try so hard to be good,
To lead a life worth living.
Father, mother, daughter, son,
Neighbor, friend, and friendless;
All together everyone, let grateful days be endless.
Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table."
- Mary Chapin Carpenter - Thanksgiving Song Lyrics 


Sermon October 28, 2018                                                           Mark 10: 46-52

By Nick Smith 

Whenever I read about Jesus curing a blind person, I think of my home town. Many of you know that I grew up in Vinton, Iowa, the home of the Iowa College for the Blind, later known as the Iowa Braille & Sight Saving School.  The school was opened in 1851 by Samuel Bacon. By December 1852, he had the backing of Iowa state legislators to establish a larger school. In January 1853, the “Asylum for the Blind” opened in Iowa City. An offer of free land near Vinton, Iowa, proved attractive to Iowa legislators, and in 1862, the Iowa Blind College was built on the outskirts of Vinton.

 
As a child, I was scared to death of the blind students and blind people of the town.  They were different, strange, sunken-eyed outsiders, and I feared them. I feared that if I touched them or they touched me, I might also go blind.  In fact, most people in Vinton treated the blind as outcasts, marginalized people who didn’t really belong to our town.  There was little, if any, interaction with the blind community—they stayed in their place and we stayed in ours.

 
In Jesus’ time, the blind, together with cripples and lepers, were outcasts of society and kept quarantined outside the city limits.  In the eyes of the ancient Hebrews the maimed, and especially the blind, were thought to possess a debased character because of the prevailing notion that bodily defects were a punishment for sins they committed or the sins of their parents. People afflicted with physical ailments were treated as outcasts and marginalized as persons outside of the society.

 
How does Jesus interact with the outcasts of his time?  In today’s gospel, Jesus, his professed followers, and a bunch of other people come across Bartimaeus as they are leaving the city. He is blind. He has no way to make a living beyond begging, given his physical captivity. He is “hidden” in plain sight, a normal, accepted, if tragic part of the city’s landscape. You might recall that Jesus healed one blind man as he entered Jericho, then last week, as Jesus and the disciples passed through the city, James and John asked to be seated on Jesus’ right and left when he came into his glory.  In each case, Jesus attempts to explain to his inner core of followers just what the kin-dom of heaven is like and what is about to happen for the salvation of the world.  No one seems to understand, so Jesus tries a third time to reveal “the way” to his followers.
 
Bartimaeus senses that real help might be near, so he takes a chance and makes a scene by calling out to Jesus. First, he calls him Jesus (from the Hebrew name, Joshua, meaning Liberator). Then he calls Jesus “Son of David”; that’s King David, the ruler of God’s people charged with the task of creating a just political and economic system for the people.
 
There is no justice, of course, without mercy, so Bartimaeus calls out for mercy. None is to be found. He is not just overlooked but is vehemently dismissed and told to shut up.  Bartimaeus, with nothing left to lose, decides not to shut up this time but calls out a second time even louder. Jesus stops. He makes his disciples get involved by having them interact with the blind man. Bartimaeus can’t believe it — he throws off his cloak and springs up. Jesus directly asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”—the same question he asked James and John.

 Look at what Bartimaeus wants—his sight. But notice the difference between what he wanted and what James and John wanted.  He wants to be a fully accepted, respected member of society who is treated with dignity, a man eligible to enter the holy places, who belongs there without apology. James and John want power, importance and authority in the coming Kin-dom of God.  Bartimaeus simply wants to be a member. Thanks to Jesus; Bartimaeus is able to articulate his dream to someone who actually treats him as fully human. And when Bartimaeus does this, he participates in his own liberation, for Jesus declares, “Your faith has made you well.” James and John could have asked for the same sight – or insight - into Jesus’ coming Kin-dom, but they do not; in fact, not one of Jesus’ inner circle of 12 disciples ever asks for clarification or insight. They are not “liberated” in their understanding until after Jesus has risen from the dead.

 I can’t help but wonder if it was the listening, the understanding, and the interaction that honored the human dignity of Bartimaeus that brought healing. Jesus doesn’t even touch him. Bartimaeus’ eyes are opened and he becomes a true follower of “the Way.” Jesus treats Bartimaeus in a just way—with compassion, dignity and love.

 With Bartimaeus’ story in my mind, I am struck by the many connections to today’s world and today’s marginalized people. No one wishes to be marginalized any more than they wish to be a blind beggar.  Does today’s gospel insinuate that even if we can’t fix all the problems within our society, it’s still worth stopping to help one person? Is there room for both helping an individual and critiquing and reforming whole social systems that see no incentive in investing in the marginalized? Is this text calling us to do something even in a small way to help the marginalized of our society?

Once Bartimaeus is healed, he follows Jesus. It would appear that Bartimaeus joined in on the healing ministry of Jesus and became another bearer of good news.

If we want to be agents of good news too, we will need to relate to other people in a just way. Do we participate in exploiting our neighbor, even in small, seemingly insignificant ways, or do we do what we can to assist those outside the mainstream of our world?

This gospel reveals the ethical interaction we should have with others—following Jesus-style:

 Seeks the good of the other person first, not your own selfish satisfaction
Engage the other with the deepest respect for their human dignity
Gets involved
Gets others involved
Liberate the other with compassion, dignity and love

 We can certainly do this. What would it look like for us to interact with our neighbor’s in a way that is ethical? I think today’s gospel helps us see how Jesus interacted with and treated social outcasts. And I also feel that today’s gospel directs us to do a very easy thing when it comes to our faith and understanding of the Kin-dom—just ask.  We should be like Bartimaeus and ask for what we truly need, not power or authority or importance, but common human dignity and insight into “the way” of Jesus the Christ.

 It wasn’t until I started wrestling in Jr. High School that I realized that the blind were nothing to fear.  My second match in seventh grade was against a blind kid.  I watched him take his eyes out, and then his coach led him out to the center of the mat.  We tied up.  The whistle blew; he tightened, made a fast move and threw me to the mat.  My fear and pity quickly turned to desperation and survival mode.  I won, but it was a heck of a match.

 During high school I developed several friendships with students at the blind school, even setting up “blind dates” for many of my sighted friends and acquaintances. I discovered that seeking the good in others, engaging others with respect for their human dignity, getting involved and getting others involves went a long way toward liberating others and myself.

You may hold some views on this gospel as well, and I invite you to share them with us now.


Sunday October 21, 2018:  


Greatness vs. The Power of Love



FIRST  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Book  of  Job 42:10-17

Job  held  fast  to  the  integrity  of  his  faith  through  all  his  suffering,  disease,  loss, and  tribulation.    Finally,  God  spoke  to  Job  about  the  mystery  of  Creation,  and  the  incomprehensibility  of  its  ways.    After Job  had  prayed for  his friends  (that  God  not  deal  with  them  according  to  their  folly),  God  restored  Job’s  fortunes  and  prosperity.    God  gave  Job  twice  as  much  as  before.    All his  sisters  and  brothers,  and  all  who  had  known  him  from  former  times, came  to  see  him. They  broke  bread  together with  him  in  his  house.    They  consoled  and  comforted  him  for  all  the  suffering  with which  he  had  been  inflicted,  and  each  of  them  gave  him  a  silver  coin and  a  gold  ring. 

  God  blessed  the  end  of  Job’s life  more  than  the  beginning.  Job came  to  own  14,000sheep,  6,000  camels,  1,000  yoke  of  oxen, and  1,000  donkeys.    He  also  had  seven  sons  and  three  daughters.    He  named  the  first  daughter  Jemimah, the second  Keziah ,and  the  third,  Keren-happuch.    Throughout  the  land, there  were  no  women  who  shone  as  brightly  as  the  daughters  of  Job.    Their  father  gave  them  inheritance  rights,  like  their  brothers.    After  this,  Job  lived  for  another  one  hundred  and  forty  years.    He  saw  his  children,  and  his  children’s  children  to  the  fourth  generation.    Then,  old  and  full  of  days,  Job  died.

The  Word  of  a  Wisdom  Writer. Thanks  be  to  God

SECOND  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Book  of  Hebrews 3:12-15b

Be  careful,  friends.    Make  sure  you  have  no  resentment  in  your  hearts,  throwing  you  off  course.    Make  sure  no  evil  diverts you  from  the  living  God.  Encourage  each other  daily; for  each  day  is  a  gift.    Do  not  be  taken  in  by  deceit.    Do  not  become hardened,  unable  or  unwilling  to  hear  the  truth.  We  have  become  partners  with  the  risen Christ.    Hold  fast to  the  faith  we  started  out  with  to  the  very  end.  May these  words  continue  to  sound in  our  ears: Today,  if  you  hear  God's  voice, harden  not  your  hearts.

The  Word  of  a Late  First  Century  Judean  Christian

 
GOSPEL:  A  Reading  from  the  Gospel  attributed to  Mark10:35-45

Glory  to  You,  O  God. 

Jesus  and  his  followers  were  on  their  way  to  Jerusalem.    Jesus  was  ahead, leading  the  way.    The  disciples  and  other  followers  were  puzzled,  and  not  just  a  little  afraid.    For  the  third  time, Jesus  took  the  Twelve  aside  and  told  them  what  was  going  to  happen  to  him: “We  are  going  up  to  Jerusalem  where  the  Chosen  One  will  be  handed  over  to  the  chief  priests  and  teachers  of  the  law,  and  will  be  condemned  to  death.    Then  the  Chosen  One  will  be  handed  over  to  the  Gentiles,  mocked  and  spat  upon,  flogged  and  killed;  and  three  days  later  will  rise.”  Then  James  and  John,  of  the  Zebedee  family, came  to Jesus.  “Teacher,”  they  said,  “we  want  you  to  do  for  us  whatever  we  ask.” “What  do  you  want  me  to  do  for  you?”  Jesus  asked.  They  replied,  “Let  one  of  us  sit  at  your  right  and  the  other  at  your  left  in  your  glory.”  “You  don’t  know  what  you’re  asking,”  Jesus  said.  “Can  you  drink  the  cup  I  drink  or  be  baptized  with  the  baptism  I  am  baptized  with?” “We  can,”  they  answered.  Jesus  said  to  them,  “You  will  drink  the  cup  I  drink  and  be  baptized with  the baptism  I  am  baptized  with,  but  to  sit  at  my  right  or  left  is  not  for  me  to  grant.  These  places  belong  to  those  for  whom  they  have  been  prepared.”

When  the  others heard  about  this,  they  became  indignant  with  James  and  John.  Jesus  called  them all  together  and  said,  “You  know  the  rulers  of  the  Gentiles  “lord” it  over  them,  and  their  high  officials exercise  power over  them.    Not  so  with  you.  Instead,  whoever  wants  to  become  great  among  you  must  be  your  servant.    Whoever wants  to  be  first among  you must  be  servant of  all.  Even the  Chosen  One did  not  come  to  be  served,  but  to  serve,  and  to  give  up life that  others  might  live.”  The  Gospel  of  Our  God.

Praise  to  You,  Jesus  the  Christ

Sermon:

This past week, I went to see the movie, The Hate You Give, which is named in reference to the Thug Life.  Tupac, a black rap artist was killed by a gang in 1996.  He has become somewhat of a martyr for those trapped in the system of drugs and violence in the black community.  Much of what he rapped about was how the white man kept black men in the cycle of violence; encouraging them to sell drugs, which often leads to being arrested then feeding the incarceration system.  Often once released, a black man has little alternatives and goes back to the streets selling drugs.  It’s only the white man who benefits.  The movie educates us all about this cycle and how often, young black males are killed by the police—as part of this ugly cycle.   They are seen as a simple casualty with one young white teen saying, “Well, he was probably gonna be killed by someone anyways.” As if the death of a black man is easy collateral for the life we have.

The American journalist Kamal Khashogghi was also just one man killed by Saudi Arabia.  But we have an $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis.  Even Pat Robertson said, “We’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of…it’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.”  This reminded me of the song in Jesus Christ Superstar, “Let one man die and the nation survive”.  Sound familiar?  Arms are weapons; these will be used to kill the people in Yemen. How’s that for a Christian perspective Mr. Robertson?

Implicit bias is a real thing and we whites suffer from it the most.  Our privilege doesn’t allow us to experience the consequences of our hate.  So another young black man dies.  So what?  How does that affect me?  Sadly, until we recognize our own implicit bias, the cycle of violence and the system that supports it will continue.

In today’s gospel, the disciples suffer from implicit bias.  James and John believe that they are one of the chosen, insiders who deserve positions of power.  They are simply following what they’ve been taught to believe: a Messiah is coming and he will wield great power over their enemies and then they, James and John, will be in power.  So, of course, they feel justified in asking if they can sit on either side of Jesus, in his kingdom to come.  It’s all about thrones and power and who’s who. 

Jesus is grieving his impending death and all his disciples can think about is, “What’s in it for me?”  How lonely Jesus must’ve felt.  And yet he persists in trying to encourage their understanding.  I’m sure he was thinking, “Will anyone ever get this? 

Jesus must have felt utterly despairing that his own disciples had yet to see the light.  Once again, he has to tell them that to achieve power they must be servants.  This is not something the guys wanted to hear. And yet he persists in trying to encourage their understanding.

Jesus asks if they can suffer what he is going to suffer and James and John answer him way too quickly.  You can tell that they don’t have a clue.  “Sure we can.  Yep.  No problem.”  It’s no coincidence that the stories of Jesus healing the blind men bracket these announcements of Jesus death.  He is trying to help the disciples to see—they have eyes and ears but they are blind and deaf to the message.  Implicit bias makes us blind and deaf.  Only with God’s grace can we suddenly wake up and realize the truth that it’s the power of love that matters most.  The power or prestige of this world will only bring heartache and despair.

Job is another hero in today’s readings.  Finally, after all he’s been through his tragic misfortune changes.  Through it all, Job has remained faithful to the truth of his love for God.  Then, God talks to him about the mystery of creation  and the incomprehensibility of its ways.  Really?  The God who we believed could change it all now talks to Job about how the world works, seemingly free of God’s power to change it.  But then it says that God blessed the end of Job’s day, more than his beginning.  Wait.  You can’t have it both ways.  Either God sets the world in motion and we are the catalysts for change or God is all powerful and intervenes regularly whenever He wants to.  I choose to believe the former.  God is a God of love.  That’s God’s power.  God is not a grand puppeteer who makes thing happen or turns a blind eye to our suffering.

Jesus embodies a God who is with us, a God who suffers and a God who even dies, is murdered, no less.  How much we want a different kind of God, one who does make our enemies pay for their wrongs, who magically blesses us for our good efforts with a glitzy wand.   But God is different than that.  God’s power is the power of love and I do believe that our love changes things in this world, even horrible systems that are bent on killing others to maintain their power system.

Mark’s last words are such a powerful message:  “Even the Chosen One came not to be served but to serve, to give up life so that others might live.”  Jesus was murdered to help change the system.  So many young black men are being murdered and the system stays the same.  I laud Mary Cohen for her de-carceration efforts.  I laud all of us who try to change the system.  We must continue to educate ourselves so that our bias is no longer implicit.  May we help to support others who seek change, especially our young next generation.  Go see “The Hate You Give” and “Monsters and Me.”  These are direct efforts by the Black Lives Matter movement to help change the system.  Go and be inspired to be part of the change.  Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2018 


28th Sunday in Ordinary Times



FIRST READING A Reading from the Book of Wisdom 7:3-12

 When we are born, we draw in common air.

When we fall, it is upon the same ground, the earth that bears us all.

Crying is the first sound we make, like everyone.

No leader, authority, or rich person has known any other beginning of existence.

There is only one way into life, and one way out.

 I prayed, and understanding was given to me.

I called on God, and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me.

I esteemed Wisdom more than power and privilege.

I held riches as nothing, compared with Her.

I did not liken Her to a precious stone – it is not Her equal.

All gold is a pinch of sand compared with Her. Silver ranks as clay beside Her.

 I loved Wisdom more than health or beauty.

I preferred Her to the light; Her radiance never sleeps.

In Her company, good things came to me, at Her hands, wealth that cannot be counted. I rejoiced in all Her gifts!

Wisdom is their source, though I had not realized She is their Mother.

 

The Wisdom of Our God.

Thanks be to God.

 

SECOND READING A Reading from the Book of Revelation 3:14-19

 The Human One, who is First and Last, said to John: 

Write this to the angel of the church in Laodicea.

 The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Source of God’s creation, says this: “I know your works. I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 

 You say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything’; yet, you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy, from me, gold refined by fire so that you may be rich.  Buy, from me, white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed.  Buy, from me, ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I challenge.  Those whom I love, I call to true wealth. Be earnest, therefore.  Change your ways. 

Change your hearts.” 

 A Vision of a Late First Century Writer, known as John.

Thanks be to God.

 GOSPEL Reading:  Mark 10:17-31   

 As Jesus started on his way, someone ran up to him and fell on bended knee before him, asking. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except One, God.  You know the commandments: ‘Don't murder.  Don't commit adultery. Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Honor your father and mother.’”  

 The petitioner answered: “Rabbi, all these I have kept since my childhood.”

  Jesus looked at and loved the one before him. “One thing you lack,” Jesus said. “Go. Sell all that you have.  Give it to those who are poor.  You will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me.”

 At Jesus’ response, the one who asked the question became crestfallen and went away grieving, having many possessions.

 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who are rich to enter the kin-dom of God!”  The disciples were perplexed at his words. Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kin-dom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kin-dom of God.”  The disciples were even more stunned, and said to themselves, “Who then can be helped?”  Looking at them, Jesus said, “For humans, it is impossible, but not with God.  All things are possible with God.”

 Then Peter spoke up, “Rabbi, we've left everything to follow you!”  Jesus replied, “Yes. Indeed no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for me and for the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land—persecutions too—and in the age to come, everlasting life.  

 “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

 
Sermon:

As some of you know, we were in Boston last weekend visiting our son Jon and his girlfriend, Mary Cate.  Being in a big city is very different than the usual midwestern kind of town.  We went to the Northside to get cannoli’s.  Mary Cate said that the best place is Mike’s Pastry.  The only catch was, there are no lines.  When we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, it was packed.  There was a man outside who kept saying, “There are no lines.  You have to fight for your cannoli!”  So, everyone was in good spirits, kind of enjoying the jostling you had to do to get to the front where four separate women were taking and filling orders for the masses.

         Mary Cate and I dove in and tried different strategies.  Staying together initially, we separated at some point.  We both knew the order:  4 cannolis: hazelnut caramel, florentine, chocolate mousse and chocolate chip.  Whoever got there first would order and signal the other.  Soon Mary Cate was ahead of me, just to my right.  Then, I heard her place the order and smiled.  Suddenly a woman to her immediate right said, “Well thanks for ditching in line in front of me.  I have children outside waiting for me.”  Mary Cate said, “Oh sorry.” Then, feeling defensive of her, I said to the woman, “No. You can’t say that.  There are no lines.  Remember what the guy said?” She said, “Well, we were kind of in a line and I was next.”  I shook my head and simply said, “No, it doesn’t work that way.”

Later, Mary Cate and I had to review the situation.  Mary Cate said, “The idea is first come, first served.  You have to speak up and she wasn’t speaking up, so I did.”   I agreed that she did the right thing.  Then I read today’s Gospel and laughed.  “The first will be served last and the last first.”  That would never work at Mike’s Pastry!  It’s a classic Jesus statement, going against the grain of the American way. There are lines for everything and we know how to stay in them and make sure that no one ditches in front of us.  So even when there aren’t lines, we make them up.  It’s certainly a form of control, a way of making us feel as if we have some control over fairness and how life is supposed to work.  Perhaps that’s what Jesus is challenging.  None of us has control over how life works.  Rarely if ever do we know when or how the next surprise will happen.  Just this week, Dave had a detached retina.  I got a call at 2pm at work on Wednesday and he told me he was in Ophthalmology, waiting to see the retina specialist.  Okay. Change of plans.  We are not in control.

Unexpected life events remind us of how little we can control.  And hopefully they turn us to God, for help and reassurance that God is with us in the foray of unexpected events.  Dave had surgery Thursday morning and is doing well.  The surgeons checked him on Friday and said that the retina was now fully reattached thanks to their lasers and skill.  I prayed while Dave was in surgery.  And I tried to trust that all will be well.  It’s a way of living that requires practice and support.  Many friends and family offered words of encouragement, part of a faith life that requires others to help remind us that we are not alone. 

Then we have the camel issue.  That camel cannot go through the eye of a needle and neither can the rich get into heaven.  Once again, Jesus is questioning our very way of life.  Those who are rich are often seen as blessed, especially at the time of Jesus.  Which is why the disciples say, “Well then who can ever get into heaven—if even those who are blessed cannot?”  Wealth in their world opened doors, gave people access to things that others didn’t have.  The hierarchy was well established.  How then can anyone get into heaven?  Jesus tried to calm their fears.  He emphasized that all things are possible with God.  I’m not sure that was enough to calm the disciples.  We still struggle with this in our world today.

I don’t believe that Jesus is calling us to a life of poverty but there is not a nifty way to avoid Jesus caution to those who have money.  We can try to tweak it; say that this man gained his wealth in deceitful ways—we certainly learned about others in our world this week whose wealth was gained in a deceitful manner.  But there are others, rich people who have used their wealth to change things.  I think of Princess Diana and Bill and Melinda Gates, they have used their wealth to help others.  And that makes all the difference.  Giving our wealth to those in need draws us into relationship with them.  It helps to level the societal playing field when done properly.  Our Winter Clothing drive would probably have meant more if we also volunteered to help in the distribution.  Serving meals at IC Compassion is that kind of leveling—interacting with others in their need. 

This is what our Second Reading proclaims:  “Those who are lukewarm, content and immune to the need around them are despicable.  So lukewarm that ‘I will spit you out.’  Instead, change your ways.  Learn what my words mean. Those whom I love I call to true wealth.”  True wealth is having the awareness of the gift and awareness of the need to share with others.

We can admit that wealth gives us a sense of security.  But we cannot become complacent that it is a true security.  I think of all those affected by Hurricane Michael, who have lost so much.  How will they begin to rebuild their lives?  Has their core been shaken?  I cannot imagine surviving such a tragedy, so it is easy for me to say that their meaning must run deeper than their possessions.  But what is most powerful about today’s gospel is that Jesus was asking the rich young man to trust him, to try to separate from his wealth and to believe that Jesus was sufficient.  Also, Jesus was teaching him that he could not buy his way into heaven.  Sadly, the man was unable to comply with Jesus’ request, at least at the time.  Perhaps he reflected on this interaction and was able later to begin the process.  We don’t know that.  What we do know is that our faith must ground us when change and chaos happen.  We must believe that our values are based on God’s call to relationship with all others.  Can we trust that with God all things are possible?

I invite us to examine our own lives to see if we are ready for unexpectedly losing things.  That will help us begin the process of separating from anything we value more than God.  It will reveal how deeply we trust in God.  God wants us to learn ways that are very different from the ways of the world, ways that are based on wisdom not societal standards.  

Remember what Fr. Shea taught us about the living God versus the super-ego God.  God is in relationship with us, helping us to grow beyond a sense of doing things to please God and instead, doing them because they enable us to live more fully.  May today’s gospel help us to reexamine our priorities.  Let us hear Jesus’ call to living a worthy life that is in touch with the poor, a life that values wisdom and that is grounded in love of our God.  Amen.

 What possessions or concerns get in the way of our relationship with God?


 September 23, 2018                

Mark 8:22-26/Mark 9:30-37            

Sermon By Nick Smith
 

The two-stage healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-26 functions as a commentary on the disciples’ lack of understanding—they are slow and dense: they do not understand the implications of following Jesus.
In one thing this miracle is unique--it is the only miracle which can be said to have happened gradually. Usually Jesus' miracles happened suddenly and completely. In this miracle the blind man's sight came back in stages. Jesus’ first attempt seems to fail.
There is symbolic truth here. No one sees all God's truth all at once. We need to grow in our faith, and we need to keep on growing.
Mark 9:30-37 marks a mile-stone. Jesus had now left the North Country where he was safe and was taking the first step towards Jerusalem and to the Cross. For once Jesus did not want the crowds around him because he had to make sure that there were some who understood, however dimly, what he had come to say.
Even yet the disciples did not understand. The thing they did not understand was the bit about rising again. To the very end they never grasped the concept of the Resurrection. They grasped it only when it became an accomplished fact.
9:32-35 so they came to Capernaum. When Jesus was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" They remained silent, for on the road they had been arguing with each other who was to be greatest. So Jesus sat down, and called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he must be the last of all, and the servant of all."
9:36-37 Jesus put a child in their midst. Now a child cannot give us things. It is the other way round. A child needs things; a child must have things done for them. So Jesus says, "If a person welcomes the poor, ordinary people, the people who have no influence and no wealth and no power, the people who need things done for them, they are welcoming me. More than that, they are welcoming God." The child is typical of the person who needs things, and it is the society of the person who needs things that we must seek.
As the blind man is given sight, however gradually, so the disciples, who are blind to Jesus' mission and identity, are given sight gradually.  Knowing and not knowing, understanding and not understanding are woven throughout chapters 8 and 9 of Mark. This is not a new role for disciples. Throughout Mark, they are the knuckleheads who just don't get it.
The question that the disciples are afraid to ask is the question that propelled so many early Christian to struggle with what Jesus taught. They needed an almighty God who conquers enemies, not one who suffers and dies. Underneath verses 31-32 are the basic questions of who Jesus is, and of the nature of God. 

The good news is that Jesus welcomes us even when we do not understand or do not know. This periscope closes with Jesus embracing a child, the ultimate symbol of not knowing, not understanding, immature and undeveloped. We need not fear our questions, our misunderstandings, our confusion or our curiosity in the presence of God, for God accepts everyone.

 

An argument often brought up in discussions about women in church leadership is that Jesus’ twelve apostles were all male, and, because there were no females among the Twelve, this means that women cannot be priests or church leaders. There were also no Gentiles among the Twelve. So, if we genuinely want to use the Twelve as a paradigm of people suitable for church leadership, we should restrict leadership to Jewish men.
I find neither of these arguments useful in discussions on church leadership because they miss a critical point: Jesus’ earthly ministry and the choosing of the Twelve occurred before the church existed. Jesus’ ministry occurred at a vital juncture between the Old Testament and the New Covenant—between “Israel only” and the inauguration of the inclusive, universal Church.
There are a few reasons why Jesus chose twelve Jewish men to be his chief disciples. For Jesus to be recognized as a rabbi he needed to have at least ten male disciples. With twelve Jewish male disciples, Jesus’ status as a rabbi was never questioned.
There is an obvious symbolism with the number twelve. Jesus himself makes a connection between the twelve disciples and the twelve tribes of Israel. When Judas Iscariot died, his place was filled to keep the number of the apostles at twelve, but once the New Covenant had been inaugurated, the significance of the Twelve was no longer relevant. There is no attempt to replace James after his early death (Acts 12:1-2) by Hared in 44 Ad.
Jesus chose Judas Iscariot to be one of the original Twelve, presumably knowing that Judas would later betray him. Since Judas Iscariot was one of the Twelve, this makes the argument untenable that Jesus intended these men to be some sort of precedent or example for church leadership. The fact that one of the Twelve never became a church leader is an important point to consider. James, the brother of Jesus (not officially an apostle), was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Apostleship was not required.
Nevertheless, while there were no women among the Twelve, there may have been Jewish women among the Seventy-Two. Many women accompanied Jesus and the Twelve on missionary trips and supported the men from their own resources. Many women were among the most faithful of Jesus’ followers and so some (or all?) of these women may have been among the Seventy-Two.
The great paradigm shift from old to new covenant did not occur at the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry but at its end. The first utterance made immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit concerned a radical change in ministry roles. With the apostles at his side, Peter formally proclaimed that, because of the new era inaugurated by the coming of the Spirit, ministries that had been previously restricted were now universally accessible to all believers without distinctions of gender, age, or class—the Holy Spirit was poured out for the first time on all believers regardless of gender.
The argument that women cannot be priests because the twelve apostles were all male is illogical. Being a pastor and being an apostle is not the same thing.  Having said that, we do have the example of a New Testament woman who was an apostle—Junia (Rom. 16:7). Moreover, the New Testament gives us several examples of women who functioned in various leadership ministries in the early church, including being pastors and leaders of house churches.
Conclusion:  The fact that the Twelve Apostles were all male cannot be used to bar women from leadership ministries for several reasons. Jesus called the Twelve before the New Covenant had been inaugurated and before the Holy Spirit had come on all believers. He chose the Twelve to help with his ministry to Israel within a certain cultural context. The fact that Judas was one of the Twelve means that Jesus must have chosen at least one (or some?) of the Twelve for reasons other than church leadership. The “male apostle” argument cannot be taken to mean that woman cannot be priests. It might be taken to mean that women cannot be apostles; however, the example of Junia as an apostle makes even this argument untenable. Moreover, Jesus never stated that only men could be leaders. Jesus’ only instructions about church leadership are that those who lead in the Christian community should be servants not rulers.  Finally, all the disciples, male and female, grasped the resurrection only after it became a fact.

 
September 16, 2018
 
Sermon:

A few days ago, I sent you a letter that Fr. Shea wrote to the RCWP.  Suddenly, because of that email, we all became aware of a prophet, a scholar, a voice that was speaking truth to power.  So today, I want to highlight what Fr.Shea has been doing for the past six years because it relates directly to today’s readings.

In 2012, Fr. John J Shea, an Augustinian priest for over 50 years, wrote a letter to the Council of Cardinals led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, asking him to challenge his fellow Cardinals to answer the question of why women cannot be ordained.  At the time, Shea was a professor at Boston College.  After this letter, his contract was not renewed.  Students wrote in protest.  Boston College said that his position had been changed and that it was a personnel matter.  It was clear that he was a beloved professor and outspoken.  And because of that, he lost his job.  Fr. Shea fulfilled today’s gospel message and stands as an example for us. 

Even though Shea was punished, again in 2014, he wrote the Council of Cardinals.  This time he said, “I am writing to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I write not to challenge the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (written in 1994 by JPII) on women’s ordination. Rather, my concern is the theological explanation of this teaching— Two years ago, I wrote to all of you with the same request.”

He says that he was dismissed from BC and that “My provincial, with the urging of several archbishops, has given me two “canonical warnings” threatening me with being “punished with a just penalty” for voicing my concerns.”

What Shea is arguing is that the papal document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (Priestly Ordination), is an historical explanation of the issue, not a theological one. He says, “It looks back at what we think Jesus was doing when he chose the 12. But it raises lots of questions:  Was it the intent of Jesus to inaugurate ministry only males could carry out? Did he ever say this? Was Jesus only doing what he thought would work best in the patriarchal culture of his day?”

Shea as an academic says, “Historical explanations suffer from an incomplete logic:  there’s no way to know if what has been is what should be or has to be.”  But, he argues, historical explanations do give us some valid lessons.  “(These) can be helpful in challenging our tendencies to absolutize as well as in chastening some of our hallowed self-evaluations.” 

Then he gives examples from history, such as slavery and racism; these used to be sanctioned by the church and are now completely reversed.  Now the Ordinary Infallible Teachings of the church say that slavery and racism are wrong.  The third example he offers is The Inferiority of Women.  He writes:  “Women’s inferiority was seen as “natural” by the cultures that cradled Christianity. In our history, this inferiority was generously reinforced by the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two wonderful theologians— arguably the two most influential in the West—not only questioned whether women had valid souls, but they outdid each other in describing women in the most vile and profoundly dehumanizing ways. No thinking in the church is more virulent and intractable than the patriarchal strain that so disrespects women. When the Vatican reasoned in the 1970s and 1980s that women could not be ordained because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” it was affirming an “ordinary infallible teaching” with roots incredibly deep in the substrate of our church.  This continues to be affirmed today.

Then, he furthers this argument by saying, “In their ordinary infallible teaching that women cannot be ordained in the church because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” the Vatican and the bishops were offering a much needed theological explanation of the issue.” Now it is obvious that this teaching, this theology is deeply unjust.  Fr.Shea believes that it is also utterly and demonstrably heretical. This teaching says that women are not fully redeemed by Jesus!  How crazy is that?  It make me tearful because he is giving words to what I have felt for so long, as a woman in the catholic church and now as a rogue womanpriest.

“We revere Jesus as priest, as prophet, and as ruler. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they should fully share in the priesthood of Jesus—but in fact women are completely excluded from the priesthood of Jesus. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they can  speak for God as Jesus did—but women are completely without voice in the church.

As a bishop, how long will you champion the inferiority of women in the church? How long will your teaching on women be an obvious and eye-popping contradiction? How long will your demeaning patriarchal stance violate women’s human and religious equality in God’s name? 

Two more years have come and gone. The priests are voiceless. The academic theologians are nice and safe. The bishops make statements but do nothing that would be recognized as engaged teaching. Do you see how bold Shea is?  He is speaking truth to power.  He is risking his life as a priest for the truth of the gospel.  What a prophet.  What courage. 

Finally, this past August, Shea wrote Pope Francis.  I’d like to read you this letter: Dear Pope Francis,

I hope you are well and that your staff lets you read this letter. I am praying for you. Your overall concern for injustice, for the poor, for the environment, and for administrative reform in the church is welcomed. 

When first you spoke of the need for honest dialogue on the issues facing the church, it was heartening. You used to say: “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” You even said: “dialogue fearlessly.”

Unfortunately, there is no dialogue—fearless, gender-inclusive, or otherwise—on the ordination of women. As our Supreme Bridgebuilder, when will you undertake the one reform most critical and centuries overdue? When will you end the suffering, the hope-dashing, and the full-on disintegration afflicting the entire church?

Can the church ever be whole if every woman in it is “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”? Does not the blatant denial of the body-and-soul integrity of women—their imago Dei ignored, disparaged, and disbarred— stifle the Spirit and turn the Good News into a lie?

Pope Francis, how long until servant ministry is separated from patriarchal conceit? How long until an intelligent view of gender dawns on a vacuous, flaccid, fear-frozen, and sheep-droved magisterium?  

How long will Vatican-championed misogyny—so blatantly disrespectful and so obviously immature—continue to pervert all four traditional hallmarks of our church? (one, holy, catholic and apostolic)

How long? How long? How long? How long?

                                                      Sincerely,  John J. Shea, O.S.A.

We will never know if the pope read this letter sent less than a month ago.  And if we hear nothing more, Fr. Shea’s voice will simple reverberate in the halls of the Vatican.

But back to our gospel.  It has been suggested that one of the reasons Jesus told Peter to get behind him was so that he could lead Peter rather than Peter trying to lead him.  It appears that the Church needs to be reminded that it should get behind Jesus once again, that it too suffers from evil intentions when it strays from Jesus’ message and disregards the very people, all women, it should be defending and supporting.  Today’s readings are a challenge for us to speak truth to power.  We might even use them as part of our writings.  Let’s send email after email to our bishops and cc: Fr.Shea so that he knows that he is not alone.  His voice and his intelligent words need to be spoken, heard, written and pronounced again and again until change happens.

Let this be our statement of support for half of the human race.  Women need to be seen as fully redeemed by God, fully capable and deserving of respect.  No more honor killings, no more genital mutilation, no more rape, no more abuse, no more male dominance anywhere.  Let us move the church forward, following in Jesus’ call to live no longer for ourselves, but for others.  Amen. 

September  2,  2018

​Readings  for  22nd  Sunday  of  Ordinary  Time

The Shadow Knows

FIRST  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Prophet  Amos 8:4-6,  8-10

Listen to this, you  who  grind  those  in  need,  and  bring  to  ruin  those  who  are  poor  in  the  land. You who say: “When will the New Moon be  over  so  that  we  can  sell  our  corn, and  the  Sabbath,  so  that  we  can  market  our  wheat, giving  short  measure  to  the  bushel and  adding  to  the  shekel  weight, fixing  our  scales  with  deceit? For then we can  buy  the  poor  for  silver, and  the  needy  for  a  pair  of  sandals, and  even  get  a  price  for  the  sweepings  of  wheat.”

Will not the earth tremble for  this?  Will not  all  who  live  on  it  mourn while  it  rises  up  and  tosses  like  the  Nile, and  sink  again  like  the  River  of  Egypt? On that Day, declares  our  God: I  will  make  the  sun  go  down  at  noon and  darken  the  earth  in  broad  daylight. I will turn  your  feasts  into  mourning, and  all  your  songs  into  lamentation.  I will  cover  the  loins  of  all  with  sackcloth, and  have  all  your  heads  shaved. I will  make  it  like  mourning  for  the  death  of  an  only  child, and  the  end  of  it  like  a  bitter  day.  The  Word  of  the Prophet Amos

SECOND  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Letter  of  James 5:1-6

Listen,  you  rich  people!    Weep  and  wail  in  lamentation  because  of  the  misery  that  is  coming  on  you! Your  wealth  has  rotted,  and  moths  have  eaten  your  clothes.  Your  gold  and  silver  are  corroded.    Testifying  against  you,  the  corrosion  itself  will  cause  you  disease  and  eat  your  flesh  like  fire.    You  thought  you  were  piling  up  wealth.    What  you  have  piled up  is  judgment. Look!  All  the  workers  you  failed  to  pay  who  mowed  your  fields  cry  out  against  you.    The  groans  of  the  harvesters  have  reached  the  ears  of  God.    You  have  looted  the  earth  in  self-indulgence.  You  have  fattened  yourselves  in  the  day  of  slaughter.    The  Word  of  a  Late  First  Century  Christian  Writer

GOSPEL:  A  Reading  from  the  Gospel  attributed  to  Mark 7:1-23

 Religious  leaders  and  lawyers  who  had  come  from  Jerusalem  gathered  around  Jesus.  They saw  some  of  his  disciples  eating  food  with  hands  that  were  defiled,  that  is,  unwashed.    (The  religious  leaders,  and  Judeans  in  general,  do  not  eat  unless  they  give  their  hands  a  ceremonial  washing,  holding  to  the  tradition  handed  down  to  them  by  their  ancestors.    When  they  come  from  the  marketplace, they  do  not  eat  unless  they  purify  themselves  through  this  washing.  And  they  observe  many  other  traditions,  such  as  the  washing  of  cups,  pitchers  and  kettles.)  So  the  religious  leaders  and  lawyers  asked  Jesus, “Why  don’t  your  disciples  live  according  to  the  tradition  of  the  elders  instead  of  eating  their  food  with  defiled  hands?” Jesus  replied,  “Isaiah  was  right  in  prophesying  about  you  hypocrites;  as  it  is  written: ‘These  people  honor  me  with  their  lips, but  their  hearts  are  far  from  me. They  worship  me  in  vain; denying  that  their  teachings  are  of  human  origin.’ You  have  let  go  of  the  commandment  of  God  yet  you  hold  on  to  human  traditions.” 

Jesus  continued:  “You  have  a  fine  way  of  setting  aside  the  commandment  of  God  so  you  won't  be  inconvenienced  in following  your  own  traditions! Moses  said,  ‘Honor  your  father  and  mother,’  and,  ‘Anyone  who  curses  their  father  or  mother  should  be  killed.’  But  you  say  that  anyone  can  tell  their  father  or  mother,  ‘Whatever  support  you  were  to  have  from  me  is  now  Corban’  (that  is,  an  offering  to  God).  You  thus  excuse  them from  caring  for  their  father  or  mother.    You void  the  word  of  God  by  this tradition  that  you  hand on.    And  you  do  many  things  like  this.” 

Jesus called  the  crowd  together  again  and  said,  “Listen,  everyone,  and  take  this  to  heart.    Nothing  outside  a  person  can  defile  by  going  inside  a  person.    The  things  that  come  out  of  a  person  are  what  defile.” After  Jesus  had  left  the  crowd  and  entered  the  house,  his  disciples  asked  him  about  this  parable.    “Do  you  also  fail  to  understand?”  Jesus  asked.    “Do  you  not  see  that  whatever  goes  into  a  person  from  outside  cannot  defile,  since  it  enters  not  the  heart  but  the  stomach,  and  goes  out  into  the  sewer?”  Jesus  continued  on,  “What  comes  out  of  a  person  is  what  defiles  them.    For  it  is  from  within,  out  of  a  person’s  heart,  that  evil  thoughts  come—obscenity,  theft,  murder,  betrayal,  greed,  malice,  deceit,  lewdness,  envy,  slander,  arrogance  and  folly.    All  these  evils  come  from  inside  and  defile  a  person.”

SERMON:

This week I met with a woman who was grieving the recent death of her husband.  She said that she missed him.  And her older sister was making her life miserable.  They had buried her husband in a family plot and the sister objected to this.  Also, this sister was trying to prevent the family from putting a marker or headstone on the plot.  The woman said, “She’s just evil.”  It seemed an appropriate conclusion: someone trying to make a loved one suffer when they are already suffering.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is addressing this very tendency, the tendency to do harm, to hurt, to destroy, to kill.  It’s what is part of the human condition, what lives inside all of us, even those of us who consider ourselves to be more evolved, mature and sophisticated. 

But that is what we as humans are capable of—terrible choices and acts of revenge or hatred.  Most often this happens when we ourselves have been hurt or mistreated by others or by life itself.  We become bitter and resentful and then inflict our own anger onto others.  It’s called our shadow selves.

I can remember learning about the “shadow” way back in college.  And the professor at the time was telling us, “If you don’t think you’re capable of murder, think again.”  I was shocked to think that I could be capable of such evil.  But the more I listened, I realized it’s the truth of today’s gospel.  What he was trying to impress upon us was the problem of those who think they are beyond that kind of hatred or anger are often the very ones who commit such atrocities in a fit of passion.  Much better to know our dark side, our shadow, so as to befriend it and remove its threat of doing harm to others.  This theory was based on Carl Jung’s work.  "Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.

Molly Tibbett’s killer was not in touch with his shadow.  In his own words, he “blacked out” and woke up to discover that Molly had blood on the side of her head.  He talked about this “blacking out” as something he did when he was overwhelmed.  We would all do well to look at our darker side and to shine some light on it for our own benefit.  We can learn from our shadow. There was a book called, “Make Friends with your Shadow” by William Miller.  Unfortunately, I threw my copy out just last week.  The subtitle is “How to accept and use positively the negative side of your personality.”  So there is great benefit to examining our hidden self rather than remaining ignorant of it.  Doing this also gives us more power to make aware choices rather than just react to life unconsciously.  Today, Jesus is challenging us to discover who we are rather than focus so much energy on hand washing or other rituals.  He was way ahead of his time!  Jesus was aware of how much our heart, what is within us, determines our actions. This is what he was telling his disciples in our gospel today.  And it applies so much to our current world issues.

The church pedophile problem is once again in the news with Pennsylvania’s recent 800+ page report.  It has been a scathing reminder of how deep the problem went, with over 1,000 children being abused.  We all know it’s much worse than those numbers.  But, as long as everyone keeps pointing the finger outside themselves, we will never move forward. 

In the most recent NCR, Marie Collins spoke with Pope Francis to ask him why the 2015 Vatican Accountability Tribunal recommendations had not been implemented.  She herself had been abused by a priest who went on to abuse other girls for the next 30 years.  Francis said, that for cultural reasons such a tribunal was "not viable.” Then, he expressed the belief that she was a "bit fixated" and did not "understand" the process being used now. Marie responded to the NCR reporter, “I have no problem in admitting to being determined to see those who protect perpetrators are held accountable (though "fixated" is not how I would describe myself!)”  Do you see how putting others down as a way of shifting blame doesn’t help?  It can’t help until and unless each priest, bishop, cardinal and the pope himself admit to having a shadow self that is capable of mistakes and great harm. 

Our political world could use the same advice.  As I was working on this sermon, I was watching John McCain’s funeral.  What a wonderful reminder and tribute to someone who really tried to embrace his shadow by bravely encountering others; many with whom he didn’t agree and becoming better because of it.  It was a reminder of how far we have strayed from decency, kindness and love.  That’s what Jesus was warning us about.  Mind your heart.  Be careful not to find yourself within the long list of evils that Jesus listed:  obscenity,  theft,  murder,  betrayal,  greed,  malice,  deceit,  lewdness,  envy,  slander,  arrogance  and  folly.

Minding our hearts is what ritual should enforce and nurture.  That’s what we try to do at our liturgies, using inclusive words and by not doing that which harms.  It’s one reason why I don’t do the handwashing before Eucharist; a reminder of washing away our sinfulness.  It’s not to say that I don’t sin but we’ve lived with being ashamed for too long.  What is key is having a balance, which is what being in touch with our shadow is all about.  We recognize that we can and do make mistakes.  Our pride and confidence can get the best of us.  We can feel self-righteous and judgmental of others.  We admit that our shadow selves exist, AND we reclaim the good that we can do.  We are ever vigilant of becoming whole people, and holy people.

This is labor day weekend so I am mindful of the many laborers who have had to work without a just wage or whose work is dangerous.  There is a shadow side to labor too; the children who are forced to work, the women who must endure unequal pay, the power games that get played to reach the top.   Many laborers do not have a voice to speak out against these practices. 

May we be that voice, the voice of the forgotten person.  If we are truly in touch with our shadow, we will have compassion for the injustices that labor has wrought.  And we will work to change these systems.  May God give u the courage to befriend our shadow side, to honesty claim those parts of ourselves that are in need of healing.  When we bring our shadow side into the light, the danger is dispelled.  Then we can claim the benefits of minding our heart, in a way that allows the love of God to shine in and transform us.  What have your learned from your shadow?  Amen.

August 26, 2018
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark 7: 24—30

Jesus went to the vicinity of Tyre and did not want anyone to know it. What was going on? Well, Jesus had been spending all of his time ministering in Jewish provinces, and that ministry was drawing overwhelming crowds, and he was exhausted. So, maybe, Jesus left the Jewish provinces and went into a Gentile territory, Tyre, in order to get some rest, or, maybe, Jesus went there to escape the Pharisees arresting him for calling them out on their hypocrisy.  We really don’t know why Jesus went there, but he went.

Jesus and his disciples are trying to hide, but it doesn’t work.  A woman hears of his arrival and makes her way boldly to Jesus. She’s a Syro-phoenician and knows that she has none of the religious, moral, and cultural credentials necessary to approach a Jewish rabbi—but nothing and no one can stop her. In Matthew’s Gospel chapter 15, the parallel account, the disciples urge Jesus to send her away because she keeps pestering them, but she continues pleading with Jesus—she won’t take no for an answer.

So what is Jesus’ response to this woman as she is begging him for help?  “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Mark 7:26–27)

At first, this appears to be an insult—Jews called Gentiles “dogs.”  It is not a flattering comment; however, what Jesus says to her is not an insult. No, it’s a parable. The word parable means “metaphor” or “likeness,” and that’s what this is. One key to understanding it is the very unusual word Jesus uses for “dogs” here. He uses a diminutive form, [kaluub(a)] a word that really means “puppies.”

Remember, the woman is a mother. Jesus is saying to her, “You know how families eat: First the children eat at the table, and afterward their pets eat too. It is not right to violate that order. The puppies must not eat food from the table before the children do.” If we go to Matthew’s account of this incident, he gives us a slightly longer version of Jesus’s answer in which Jesus explains his meaning: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus concentrated his ministry on Israel, for all sorts of reasons. He was sent to show Israel that he was the fulfillment of all Scripture’s promises, the fulfillment of all the prophets, priests, and kings, the fulfillment of the temple. His words, then, are not the insult they appear to be. What he’s saying to this woman is,

“Please understand, there’s an order here. I’m going to Israel first, then the Gentiles (the other nations) later.” However, this mother comes back at him with an astounding reply:

“Yes, Sir,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “You have argued well. For saying this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:28–30) In the other Gospels it is made more explicit: “Great is your faith! May it be done as you wish!” (Mt 15: 28).

In other words, she says, Yes, Lord, but the puppies eat from that table too, and I’m here for mine. Jesus has told her a parable, and she gets it. She responds to the challenge: “Okay, I understand. I am not from Israel, I do not worship the God that the Israelites worship. Therefore, I don’t have a place at the table. I accept that. I may not have a place at the table—but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now.” She is arguing with Jesus in the most respectful way and she will not take no for an answer.

In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have assertions of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is right-less assertiveness, something we know little about. She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness—and I need it now.”

For example, the fact that Jesus reached out to this Gentile woman, and then decides to include this outsider into his message of salvation, has massive implications about the distinctive nature of Christian salvation. In Jewish religious culture, it was understood that one’s standing with God was predicated foremost upon their Jewish ethnicity and, secondarily, upon their degree of religious practice. Therefore, to be ethnically Gentile (not Jewish) was to be inherently outside of right standing with God. Ethnicity, then, was an important factor for your status before God.

In addition, in Jesus’ day, women were also regarded as social outsiders–in society and also in the religious spheres. To be a woman meant social inferiority, religious marginality, and political inequality. Indeed, this individual has two strikes against her–being a Gentile and a woman. Yet, this woman is the first one to hear and understand one of Jesus’ parables in the entire gospel of Mark. This account, in and of itself, shows a great deal about the nature of the salvation Jesus welcomes into the world: a salvation for all people groups and all people statuses, completely independent of people’s religious merit, and totally dependent on God’s grace.

And if we put ourselves in the shoes of the Gentile woman, I think we will find another truth that is very practical to our own lives. Here’s what I mean: quite likely, it’s only until you realize that you have no leverage in your position before God that you will finally begin to hear and understand God’s voice and- just like the Gentile woman who had nothing to offer Jesus- lean on His grace alone.

Jesus’ closest, Jewish, male disciples did not understand Jesus’ profound parables, but this Gentile woman did?

Jesus’ purpose was not about leading a political movement like everyone wanted him to (even his own disciples); instead, his purpose was to reconcile people to God. Jesus understood the blockage between humanity and God as the root cause behind all personal, political, ethical, religious, and social strife. Therefore, this story is proof that Jesus’ mission was not about fixing the apparent problems of human culture so much as it was about redeeming the inherent problem of human hearts.

This episode helps us to understand something of the mystery which envelops the person. Observing the reactions and the attitudes of the people, Jesus discovers the will of the God in the events of life. The attitude of the woman opens a new horizon in the life of Jesus. Thanks to her, Jesus discovers the role of all people, Jew and Gentile in God’s Kin-dom.

Thus, throughout the pages of the Gospel of Mark, there is a growing opening toward all people. In this way, Mark leads the readers to open themselves before the reality of the world which surrounds them and to overcome the preconceptions which prevent a peaceful living together among the people. We owe a debt of gratitude to this un-named, gentile woman because this opening toward gentiles appears very clearly in the final order given by Jesus to the disciples, after His Resurrection: “Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Gospel to all creation” (Mk 16: 1)

Sunday August 12, 2018

Open Mic

August 12, 2018

More Discussion on Miracles

FIRST  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  First  Book  of  Kings 19:4-8

Elijah  took  himself  on  a  day’s  journey  into  the  desert.    He  came  to  a  solitary  broom  tree  and  sat  down  in  its  shade.    He  asked  that  he  might  die:  “It  is  enough;  now,  my  God,  take  away  my  life,  for  I  am  no  better  than  my  ancestors.” Then  Elijah  lay  down  under  the  broom  tree  and  fell  asleep.    Suddenly  an  angel  touched  him  and  said,  “Get  up  and  eat.”  Elijah looked,  and  there  at  his  head  was  a  cake  of  bread  baked  on  hot  stones,  and  a  jar  of  water.    He  ate  and  drank,  and  lay  down  again.    The  angel  of  God  came  a  second  time,  touched  him,  and  said,  “Get  up  and  eat,  otherwise  the  journey  will  be  too  much  for  you.”  He  got  up,  and  ate  and  drank.    Then,  strengthened  by that  food,  he  walked for  forty  days  and  forty  nights  to  Horeb, the  mountain of  God.  The  Word  of  an  Israelite  Scribe

SECOND  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Letter  to  the  Ephesians 4:25-5:2a

Put  off  all  lies  and  pretense.    Speak  truthfully  to  each  other.  We  are  all  members  of  one  body.    Be  angry,  but  don't  act  in  anger.    Don’t let  the  sun  set  on  your  anger.    Do  not  make  room  for  evil  in  your  heart.    Anyone  who  has  been  stealing,  must  steal  no  more.    Instead,  they  must  work,  and  do  something  useful  with  their  own  hands,  so  that  they  too  will  have  something  to  share  with  those  in  need.  Let  no  offensive  talk  pass  your  lips,  only  what  is helpful  for  building  others  up,  so  that  it  brings  a  blessing  to  those  who  hear  it.    Do  not  cause  grief  to  the  Holy  Spirit  of  God,  who  has  already  marked  you  as  her  own  so  that  you  will  have  life  to  the  fullest.    Get  rid  of  all  bitterness,  bad-temper,  anger,  wrangling,  and  slander,  together  with  all  forms  of  malice.    Be  kind  to  one  another,  tenderhearted,  forgiving  one  another,  the way  Christ  showed  us  that  God  forgives.    As  beloved of  God,  be  imitators  of  God,  and  live  in  love,  as  Christ  loved  us.  The  Word  of  a  follower  of  Paul

GOSPEL:  A  Reading  from  the  Gospel  attributed  to  Mark 8:9b-21 

After  Jesus  had provided  food  for4,000  people using  only  7  loaves  and  a  few  fish,  he dismissed  the  crowd.    Then  he got  into  the  boat  with  his  disciples  and  came  to  the  region  of  Dalmanutha,  a  place  near  the  Sea  of  Galilee.    There,  the  Pharisees  came  forward  and  began  to  argue  with Jesus,  seeking  a  sign  from  heaven  to  test  him.  He  sighed  from  the  depth  of  his  spirit  and  said,  “Why  does  this  generation  seek  a  sign?  Amen,  I  say  to  you,  no  sign  will  be  given  to  this  generation.” Then  he  left  them,  got  into  the  boat  again,  and  went  off  to  the  other  shore.  The disciples  in  the  boat  had  forgotten  to  bring  bread.    They  had  only  one  loaf  with  them.  Jesus enjoined  them, saying,  “Be  careful.    Guard  against  the  leaven  of  the  Pharisees  and  the  leaven  of  Herod.”  The disciples decided  among  themselves  that  he  said  this  because  they  had  no  bread.  When  Jesus  became  aware  of  their  thoughts,  he  said  to  them,  “Why  do  you  think  I  said  this because  you  have  no  bread?  Do  you  not  yet  understand  or  comprehend?  Are  your  hearts  hardened? Do  you  have  eyes  and  not  see,  ears  and  not  hear?  Don't you  remember when  I  broke  the  five  loaves  for  the  five  thousand?    How  many  wicker  baskets  full  of  fragments  did  you  pick  up?”  They  answered  him,  “Twelve.”  “When  I  broke  the  seven  loaves  for  the  four  thousand,  how  many  baskets  full  of  fragments  did  you  pick  up?”  They answered, “Seven.”  Jesus said  to  them,  “Do  you  still not  understand?”  The  Gospel  of  our  God.  Praise  to  you,  Jesus  the  Christ.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

FIRST  READING:  A  Reading  from  the  Book  of  Exodus 16:2-4,  11-15

The  whole  congregation  of  the  Israelites  complained  against  Moses  and  Aaron  in  the  desert.  The  Israelites  said  to  them,  “If  only  God's  hand  had  killed  us  in  the  land  of  Egypt,  when  we  sat  by  meaty  stews  at  night  and  ate  our  fill  of  bread.    You've  brought  us  out  into  this  desert  to  kill  this  whole  assembly  with  hunger!” Then  God  said  to  Moses,  “I  am  going  to  rain  bread  from heaven  for  you.  Each  day, the  people  will  go  out  and  gather  enough  for  that  day.    In  that  way  I  will  test  them,  whether  they  will  trust  in  my  ways  or  not.  In  the  morning,  you  will  have  your  fill  of  bread.  In  the  evening  twilight,  you  will  eat  meat.    Then  you  will  know  that  I  am  your  God.”  In  the  evening,  quail came  up  and  covered  the  camp.  In  the  morning, there  was  a  layer  of  dew  all  about  the  camp.  When  the  layer  of  dew  evaporated,  fine  flakes  lay  on  the  desert  floor,  like  frost  on  the  ground.  On  seeing  it,  the  Israelites  asked  one  another,  “What  is  this?”  They  did  not  know  what  it  was,  but Moses  told  them,  “It's  the  bread  which  God, our  God,  has  given  you  to  eat.”

SECOND  READING  A  Reading  from  the  Book  of  Acts 20:6(+4),  7-10,  12,  11

After  the  feast  of  Unleavened  Bread, we  sailed  from  Philippi  and  rejoined  Sopater...from  Beroea,  Aristarchus  and  Secundus  from  Thessalonica,  Gaius  from  Derbe,  Timothy,  and  Tychicus  and  Trophimus  from  Asia  five  days  later  in  Troas,  where  we  spent  a  week.  On  the  first  day  of  the  week, when  we  gathered  to  break  bread,  Paul  spoke  to  them  because  he  was  going  to  leave  on  the  next  day.  He  spoke  at  great  length, even until  midnight.  There  were  many  lamps  in  the  upstairs  room  where  we  were  gathered. A young  man  named  Eutychus, who  was  sitting  on  the  window  sill, was  sinking  into  a  deep  sleep  as  Paul  talked  on  and  on.  When  overcome  by  sleep,  Eutychus fell  out  the  window  from  the  third  story.  When  he  was  picked  up,  he  was  dead.  Paul  went  down.    He threw  himself  upon  Eutychus,  embraced  him, and  said  to  the  others,  “Don’t  be  alarmed.    There  is  life  in  him.”  The  boy  lived, and  those  gathered  were  greatly  comforted.    Then  Paul returned  upstairs,  broke  the  bread,  and  they  ate.    He  departed after  a  long  conversation  that  lasted  until  daybreak.

GOSPEL:  A  Reading  from  the  Gospel  attributed  to  Mark 8:1-9a

When  Jesus  was  in  the  vicinity  of  the  Decapolis,  Gentile  territory,  again a  great  crowd  had  gathered  to  hear  him  teach.    Jesus summoned  the  disciples  and  said,  “My  heart  is  moved  with  pity  for  the  crowd,  because  they  have  been  with  me  now  for  three  days  and  have  nothing  to  eat.  If  I  send  them  away  hungry  to  their  homes,  they  will  collapse  on  the  way,  and  some  of  them  have  come  a  great  distance.”  His  disciples  answered  him,  “Where  can  anyone  get  enough  bread  to  satisfy  this  crowd  here  in  this  deserted  place?”  Jesus  asked  them,  “How  many  loaves  do  you  have?”  “Seven,”  they  replied.  Jesus ordered  the crowd  to  sit  down  on  the  ground.  Then,  taking  the  seven  loaves, he  gave  thanks,  broke  them,  and  gave  them  to  his  disciples  to  distribute.  They distributed  them  to  the  crowd.  They  also  had  a  few  fish.  He  said  the  blessing  over  them  and  ordered  them  distributed  also.  They  ate  and  were  satisfied.  The  disciples collected  the bread  that  was  left  over—seven  baskets full.  There  were  about  four  thousand  people.

Sermon: 

I don’t know about you, but I always find it interesting when God apparently intervenes in reality.  Technically these are called miracles.  We have miracles in all three readings today.  First in the Hebrew scriptures, God sends bread or manna from heaven, hoarfrost on the grass in little flakes.  The women I’m sure had to collect enough of it to make bread.  And there was quail to eat, enough to feed everyone.  This is what changed their tune from complaining and questioning to once again trusting their God.  Thanks to the miracle.

Then we have poor Eutychus in our Second Reading!  I’d never heard this story before.  A boy named Eutychus falls out of a window and dies because he is that bored with Paul’s preaching.  Then he gets resuscitated by Paul who then breaks bread.  Here we have the bread again as the key ingredient of the story.  It’s bread, whether it’s manna or some other form of bread, we take notice that it serves as the source of renewal and sustenance.  Sadly, Paul goes back to preaching the same message he was preaching when he put the boy to sleep in the first place.  I think there’s a lesson here for Paul that gets completely overlooked.   Notice your listeners and how they are doing.  At my niece’s wedding in Phoenix, one bridesmaid fainted and then the groom got woozy twice.  Instead of cutting to the chase, the officiant just kept on preaching. It was all I could do to not speak up. But back to our question, did the miracle of Eutychus help the people believe in Paul and his message?  Probably.

Finally, in our gospel, we hear of Jesus’ compassion for the people.  He is worried and clearly touched by those who had traveled so far to hear him preach.  Out of kindness and a deep trust in God, he gathers a few loaves, blesses them and then has the disciples distribute them.  There is more than enough to go around with leftovers.  A miracle!  But some have said that the real miracle was that everyone shared all the food that they were hoarding for themselves.  Thus, no technical miracle but more a change of culture (which some would consider miraculous). 

This is a hotly debated topic among theologians and preachers.  Some say that it had to be a miracle in order for their to be the seven miracles of John’s gospel—seven being a perfect number and thus an indication of Jesus’ divinity.  Others note that this story is told six different times and in every gospel.  Only the story of the resurrection gets that kind of attention.  The fact that this story is so prominently told and with very little variation causes theologians to believe its authenticity.  For those who study scripture, they have poured over the words in the story and see no indication of “sharing” as some would believe.  They note that Jesus is very clear in his action and in his words.  How much food do we have?  Bring it here.  Even the blessing of the bread and fish is seen as significant—as a precursor for the eucharist. 

Also, this fulfills Jesus’ role as the new Moses.  Just as Moses led his people and kept them from starving so now Jesus saves 4,000 men.   (It took a lot of bread and fish to feed 10,000–20,000 people or more. Jesus fed 5,000 men on one occasion, not counting women and children. Add one woman and one child for each man and you already are at 15,000.)

The question is, no we need God to perform miracles in order to believe?  It’s an important question.  How many of us believe in miracles?  I certainly do.  I remember here when we blessed Mary who needed a lung transplant and got the call that very night after we had blessed her.  I don’t know how you explain that, but it felt very amazing.  You may have your own miracle stories.  They help encourage us and renew our faith.  Is that a good thing?

What may be most important is the trust factor; that we trust God regardless of the miracles.  It’s a lot harder to do that, I will admit but it makes us more responsible for continuing to do our part without relying on the miracle to happen.

Part of the message today is that Jesus understood the physical needs of the people.  And he knew that that was the priority.  It’s a well known truth that you cannot or should not preach to those who are in need.  They cannot hear beyond their physical demands.  I’ve found this to be true in the hospital.  If someone is in pain or if there is suddenly bad news, no one can process other in-depth issues.  They need to have pain relief or they need time to grieve.  There is a basic human reality of taking care of physical needs before the spiritual can be addressed.

 In our world today, hunger is a huge issue.  Some statistics says that over one billion people still suffer from hunger today.  And yet, there is enough food to feed this overwhelming number.  In our reading, Jesus asks how much food there is.  Then he says, “Give it to me.”  Through his prayer and his touch, he is able to keep the food coming until all are satisfied.  We need to see this problem of hunger through Jesus’ eyes and trust that we can find a way to solve the problem.  As we look to the how, Jesus can help us find the way—and that may be the biggest miracle. 

How much do you believe in miracles?  Are they a cornerstone of your faith? 

Sunday July 1, 2018

The Woman Bleeding who is Healed

FIRST  READINGA  Reading  from  the  Book  of  Wisdom1:1,  4,  6-7;  13-15;  2:23

You who hold  seats  of  power: desire justice; pray  to  the Holy  One  with  right intentions; seek  God  with  integrity of  heart.  Wisdom enters  souls  who  seek  her, longing  to dwell in  your  very  body.  Wisdom is a  kind spirit, a  friend  to  humans.  She  holds us  to  our words. Wisdom is  witness  to  our inmost  feelings.  She  sees  our hearts and  hears our  utterances.  Wisdom,  the spirit  of  God  that  fills the  world, holds  all  things  together. She knows  what  we  say.  God  did  not  make  death.  God  does  not  delight  in  the  death  of  the  living.  God  created  all  things  that  they  might  be; that  they  might  live.  The  generative  forces  of  the  world  are  wholesome; there  is  no  poison  in  them.  The  dominion  of  Hades  is  not  on earth, for  justice  is  undying.  God  created  us  for  life.  We  are  made  in  the  image  of  an  infinite  God.

SECOND  READING  A  Reading  from  Paul’s  Second  Letter  to  the  Corinthians 3:1-3,6a,  4:1-2,  5-6

Do  we  need  letters  of  recommendation,  either  to  you  or  from  you?    You  yourselves  are  our  letter,  written  in  our  hearts,  that  everyone  can  read  and  understand.    You are  a  letter  from  the  Christ,  entrusted  to  our  care,  written  not  with  ink  but  with  the  Spirit  of  the  living  God;  not on  stone  tablets,  but  on  the  tablets  of  human  hearts.    For  God  has  given  us  ability  and  gifts  to  be  ministers  of  a  new  covenant.  Therefore,  since  we  have  this  ministry  through  the  grace  Jesus  gave  to  us,  we  never  lose  heart.    Rather,  we  denounce  hurtful  secrecy,  for  it  is  not  our  way  to  be  devious,  or  to  falsify  the  word  of  God.    Instead,  in  God’s  sight  we  commend  ourselves  to  every  human  being  with  a  conscience  by  showing  and  living  the  truth  openly.  We  don’t  proclaim  ourselves.    We  proclaim  Jesus  the  Christ,  and  ourselves  as  servants  to  all, for  Jesus’  sake.    The God  of  Creation, who  said,  “Let  there  be  light, ”has  shone in  our  hearts. God  enlightens  all  with  knowledge  of  divine  glory,  which  shone  in the  face  of  Jesus  the  Christ.

GOSPEL  A  Reading  from the  Good  News  attributed to  Mark 5:21-43   When  Jesus  had  again  crossed  the  Sea  of  Galilee  in  the  boat  to  the  other  side,  a  great  crowd  gathered  round  him.    He was  by  the  lake.  Then  one  of  the  leaders  of  the  synagogue, named  Jairus, came. When he  saw Jesus,  he  fell  at  his  feet  and  begged  him  repeatedly,  “My  little  daughter  is  at  the  point  of  death.  Come  and  lay  your  hands  on  her,  so she  may  be  made  well,  and  live.” Jesus went  with  Jairus. A  large  crowd  followed  and  pressed  in  on  Jesus.  Now  there  was  a  woman  who  had  been  suffering  from  hemorrhages  for  twelve  years.    She  had  endured  much, under  many  physicians, and  had  spent  all  that  she  had.    She  was  no  better,  but  rather  grew  worse.    She  had  heard  about  Jesus. She  said to  herself,  “If  I  but  touch  his  clothes,  I  will  be  made  well.” She  came  up  behind  him  in  the  crowd  and  touched  his  cloak. Immediately, the  bleeding stopped.    She  felt  in  her  body  that  she  was  healed.  Immediately  aware  that  power  had  gone  forth  from  him,  Jesus  turned  about  in  the  crowd  and  said,  “Who  touched  my  clothes?”    His  disciples  said,  “You  can  see  the  crowd  pressing  in  on  you.    How  can  you  say,  ‘Who  touched  me?’”    Jesus looked  all  around  to  see  who  had  done  it. 

The woman,  knowing what  had  happened  to  her,  came to  him,  trembling with  fear.  Falling down  before  him,  she told  him  what  she  had  done.  Jesus said  to her,  “Daughter,  your  faith  has  made  you  well.  Go in  peace.  Be healed  of  this disease.” While  he  was  still  speaking to  her,  some  people  came  from  Jairus’  house  to  say  to  him,  “Your  daughter  is  dead.  No  need  to trouble  the  teacher  any  further.” But  overhearing  what  they  said,  Jesus  said  to  the  leader of  the  synagogue,  “Do  not  fear.  Only  believe.”

When  they  came  to  the  house,  Jesus  saw  a  commotion,  people  weeping  and  wailing  loudly.    When  he  entered the  house,  he  said  to  them,  “Why  do  you  make  a  commotion  and  weep?  The  child  is  not  dead  but  sleeping.” They  laughed  at  him.  Then  he  ushered them  all  outside.    He took  the  child’s  father  and  mother, and  those  who  were  with  him,  and  went  in  where  the  child  was.    He  took  her  by  the  hand  and  said  to  her, “Talitha  cumi,” which  means,  “Little  girl,  rise  up!” Immediately, the  girl  rose  up  and  began  to  walk  about.    (She  was  twelve  years  of  age.)    At  this,  her  parents were  overcome  with  amazement.  Jesus  strictly  ordered  them  that  no  one  should  know  this.    He  told  them  to  give  her  something  to  eat.

 Sermon: 

I want to begin by saying that our First Reading should be a letter to our president.  It has such a kind feel and such encouragement about wisdom.  “Desire justice.  Seek God with integrity of heart.”  Just a thought.

In our Gospel today, we have a story within a story and a miracle within a miracle.  Jairus is a big deal.  He is one of the leaders of the synagogue.  Isn’t it amazing how all questioning and doubt goes out the window when we have a personal issue?  Jairus knows what Jesus is capable of and if he’s spoken ill of Jesus behind closed doors, that is gone and forgotten.  Because now it is his twelve year old daughter who is in need.  Not himself, but his beloved daughter.  He who has power is humbling himself to ask, to hope at the feet of Jesus, begging Jesus to heal his daughter.  So we have this well-respected male who has drawn a crowd because word had spread and everyone wanted to see what would happen.  It’s a big deal.  And suddenly, quietly, trying not to be seen, there is a woman who touches Jesus garment.  She is not any woman but a woman who is lost to society, forgotten; someone who has been shunned for twelve years because of her bleeding disorder.  Let’s not miss the irony of how this mirrors the twelve year old daughter of Jairus who has been beloved for the same twelve years.  This woman who is not has suffered from bleeding, something that makes her an outcast to her community.  Blood is viewed as sacred in the Jewish tradition but when it issues forth from a woman, it causes her to be unclean and so “untouchable” by others. 

This sounds horrible to us but it is a sacred tradition in the Jewish tradition.  In Leviticus 15:19 and 24, we are told: “If a woman has an emission, and her emission in her flesh is blood, she shall be seven days in her [menstrual] separation, and anyone who touches her shall be tamei, a bearer of tum’ah or "spiritually impure", as in being separated from the presence of God, until evening.  The word tumah is a complex word that can't be directly translated into English. The simplest explanation is that it is the "energy of death" that fills the world.

There is also a special case in biblical culture for a woman’s separation from others that occurs after giving birth: for a daughter, the mother is separated from others for fourteen days, and then after 66 days she may bring a sacrifice to the Temple. For a son, she is separated for seven days, and then waits thirty-three days. One suggestion that has been made for the doubled time for a daughter is that the daughter herself bears a “fountain of blood” and so the additional separation period reflects the presence of the daughter’s body.

Mikveh is the ritual purification that a woman performs so that she can then reenter society.  At the mikveh the woman prepares herself by bathing, brushing her teeth, cleaning under her nails, removing all jewelry to make sure that her body is perfectly clean before entering the waters. She then goes into the water and immerses herself completely, and recites a prescribed blessing. The procedure is similar for a woman who has given birth. So only after mikveh can a woman be with others.  And yet our woman today cannot go to mikveh because her bleeding continues.

Another explanation of this Jewish practice is that when something happens that focuses our attention on the world such a death or birth, we need to do something to turn our minds back to the holy.  Going to mikveh is that ritual.

So, it would seem that this woman has been forced to be about focusing on things that are not holy.  She must have learned how to survive on her own, how to find food and shelter.  But she would’ve done this alone.  So much of what happened to people at that time was their fault—remember the man born blind when Jesus was asked whether his blindness was because of his own fault or of his parents?  Jesus said that it was “neither.” 

And today, Jesus’ response to this woman was to have felt her touch, to have felt power go out of him.  He stops the crowd and takes notice, something that must have astonished her.  She comes trembling with fear because she is expecting punishment, shame.  And how does Jesus address her?  As daughter.  Kin.  Relative.  Just as Jairus daughter had an advocate in her father, this woman now can claim Jesus as her advocate.  Instead of shame or persecution, Jesus blesses her, affirms her for her faith:  Go in peace.  Be healed.  Be alive.  Be welcomed back into society.  Be healed fully, body, mind and spirit.  Be free from the constraints of religion that deemed you unworthy.  Come back to life.

How wonderful that we witness two resurrections today:  this woman who had been dead to society for twelve years and a twelve year old girl who was dead, lost to her family.  Did you notice with Jairus’s daughter that Jesus has to stop the judgement, the mocking laughter that he knows is based in fear? He says, “Do not be afraid.” And then “Only believe.”  Those are the words I invite us to say over and over.  Only believe.  It sounds so simple.  Would that we could simply believe.  The woman whose bleeding stopped must have shouted her healing from the rooftops and told anyone who would listen.  The child would live her life as a witness to being resurrected.  Others would point to her as the one who had died but now lived. 

We can bear witness to coming to life as well.  How has God changed you to be a believer?  Why do follow Christ?  I know it’s because of my experience of being healed, of being loved.  I choose to follow a God of love.  We are followers of God’s healing love.  And our mantra must be, for ourselves and others:  “Only believe.”   
                                

June 24, 2018


Speaking Truth to Power (Mark 6:14-29)
By Nick Smith 

What do the following people have in common?

Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Nellie Bly insane asylums and Standard oil [Rockefeller and railroads], Gloria Steinem, Al Gore, John Dear, Dick Gregory, John Lennon, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Ralph Abernathy, Mary Kay Kusner, Madonna, Cesar Chavez, Malala - shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism on educating girls,  Jessica Arbour –Catholic sex abuse scandal, Barbara Blaine - the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which she founded in 1988 [SNAP], McKayla Maroney [Dr. Larry Nassar-Olympic doctor], and the people in this room.
 

All these people and thousands more have spoken truth to power.  What is “speaking truth to power?”  It is a nonviolent challenge to injustice and totalitarian forces, often perpetuated by institutions/government. It is the courage to stand upon one’s own conviction; it’s believing deeply in what you say and fighting to have it heard.  It may not be popular; it means taking a risk, it means standing for something.  It means being humble enough to accept that we only know the truth that we know, at any given point on our life’s journey. But the truth that we do know must be spoken. It means having the courage to say what we see.  It means the conviction to stand up for your beliefs even though sometimes there is a price to pay.  Speaking truth to power means: comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable. 

Speaking truth to power is no laughing matter. On the contrary, it is deadly serious, and it can be downright dangerous. In today’s gospel, we read: “King Herod heard of it,” that is, Herod heard of the ministry that Jesus was doing, preaching and teaching and calling people to repentance and casting out demons and healing the sick–“King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’”

So King Herod was saying to himself, “Geese, these reports I’m hearing about this guy Jesus–he sounds a lot like John, the fellow I just had beheaded. I wonder if this is John raised from the dead, come back to bother me all over again.” And this then is what prompts the flashback in our gospel, the account of how John had spoken truth to power and paid for it with his life. Herod had dumped his first wife and married his brother’s wife, a woman named Herodias. This was a rather immoral thing to do; a clear violation of God’s law. But Herod was in power, so who’s going to stop him?  Well, John may not have been able to stop him, but John was going to let Herod know that what he was doing was wrong. He kept on saying, publicly, openly: “Herod, you may be king. You may have a lot of power and might. But might does not make right. What you are doing is not right in God’s sight. John was not afraid to speak truth to power.

So Herod had John arrested and thrown into prison. Now, if I’m John the Baptist and I’m standing up for Jesus, and Jesus is doing miracles, I’m going to think Jesus is going to do something for me. I stand up for Him, He’ll come for me. Most likely John’s just waiting for Jesus to come for him - - - and he ends up waiting and waiting and waiting. Jesus didn’t break him out. He didn’t send 10-foot tall angels with fiery swords to rescue him. Jesus kept doing His ministry - - healing the sick, hanging out with the outcasts, while John waited.

John the Baptist was human. He did what we would have done. He started asking questions. We can see what John was thinking in Matthew 11: Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  He was wondering:  “Is Jesus really who I thought He was?” John hears Jesus is healing people and performing miracles. But is He really the Christ, and maybe . . . why isn’t Jesus helping me?

In other words, Jesus, I’ve been doing all of this and you haven’t come through for me. So, maybe you aren’t the one I thought you were. How did Jesus reply? Jesus didn’t say “Hey, I’m the one. Hang on; I’m coming at midnight to break you out.” Instead, Jesus told John’s disciples:   “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.” It is not improbable that John wished Jesus publicly to proclaim himself as the Christ.  Jesus replied that John had sufficient evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship by his works; that a person might discover this truth if they chose to; and that one is blessed or happy who believes in God’s truth, who believes in Jesus even though God appears to be taking no action to help them— that God isn’t doing something for them.  God doesn’t always do what we expect or wish for or want.

Here’s the thing: Jesus and John and Elijah and the prophets of old and the prophets I mentioned in the beginning–they are all speaking God’s truth to power. And so God is with them. And if God is with us, who can be against us? Yes, the people in power can shut you down, they can even take your freedom—your life, but they cannot stop God’s word. Speaking truth to power may be high-risk, but even more so, it is high-reward because God will vindicate the truth in the end.

We must all continue to “speak truth to power” in order to make this a better world aligned with God’s kin-dom.  Keep up your good work and fight to be heard speaking God’s truth.

June 3, 2018

Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018
 

FIRST  READING: A  Reading  from  the  First  Book  of  Kings 19:4-9,  11-13

Elijah,  the  prophet,  went  for  a  day’s  journey  into  the  desert  and  sat  down  under  a  solitary  broom  bush,  and  prayed  for  death.    “It's  enough,  now,  God.    Take  my life,  for  I  am  no  better  than  my  ancestors.”    Then  he  lay  down  and  went  to  sleep.    Suddenly,  an  angel,  that  is,  a  messenger  from  God,  touched  him  and  said,  “Get  up  and  eat.”    He  looked,  and  there  next  to  his  head  was  a  cake  baked  on  hot  stones,  and  a  jar  of  water.    He  ate  and  drank,  and  lay  down  again.   

Again,  as  he  slept,  the  angel  of  God  touched  him,  and  said,  “Get  up  and  eat,  otherwise  the  journey  will  be  too  much  for  you.”    He  got  up,  and  ate and  drank.    Then  he  went  in  the  strength  of  that  food  forty  days  and  forty  nights  to  Horeb,  also  known  as  Mount  Sinai,  the  mountain  of  God.    At  that  place,  he  came  to  a  cave  and  spent  the  night  there.  The  angel  of  God  said,  “Go  out  and  stand  on  the  mountain  before  God,  for  God  is  about  to  pass  by.”    A  strong  wind  came,  so  great  that  it  split  mountains  and  shattered  rocks  before  Elijah; but  God  was  not  in  the  wind.    After  the  wind,  there  was  an  earthquake; but  God  was  not  in  the  earthquake.    And  after  the  earthquake,  came  fire;  but  God  was  not  in  the  fire.    After  the  fire,  came  a  voice  with  the  sound  of utter  and  complete silence.    When  Elijah  heard  it,  he  wrapped  his  face  in  his  mantle  and  went  out  and  stood  at  the  mouth  of  the  cave.    A  voice  said  to  him,  “What  are  you  doing  here,  Elijah?”

SECOND  READING:  A  Reading  from  Paul’s  Second  Letter  to  the  Corinthians 13:11-13

Finally, dearly  beloved,  we  wish  you  joy.    Mend  your  ways.    Encourage  one  another.    Find  common  ground.    Live  in  peace;  and  the  God  of  love  and  peace  will  be  with  you.    Greet  one  another  with  a  holy  kiss.    All  God’s  holy  people  greet  you. The  Grace  of Jesus  the  Christ,  the  Love  of  God,  and  the  Communion  of  the  Holy  Spirit  be  with  you  all. 

GOSPEL: A  Reading  from  the  Gospel  attributed to  John 15:9-17,26-27;  16:12-14a,21-24

Jesus  said  to  his  disciples:    “As  my  Abba/Ima God  has  loved  me,    so  have  I  loved  you.  Live  on  in  my  love.    You  will  live  on  in  my  love  if  you  keep  my  commandments,  just  as  I  live  on  in  God’s  love  and  have  kept  God’s  commandments.    I  tell  you  all  this  that  my  joy  may  be  yours,  and  that  your  joy  may  be  complete.  This  is  my  commandment: love  one  another  as  I  have  loved  you.  There  is  no  greater  love than  to  lay  down  one’s  life  for  one’s  friends. And  you  are  my  friends,  if  you  do  as I  command  you.  I  no  longer  speak  of  you  as  subordinates,  because  a  subordinate  does  not  know  what  a  superior  is  doing.    Instead  I  call  you  friends,  because  I  have  made  known  to  you  everything  I  have  learned  from  my  Abba/Ima  God.

It  was  not  you  who  chose  me.    It  was  I  who  chose  you  to  go  forth  and  bear  fruit.  Your  fruit  must  endure  so  that, whatever  you  ask  of  God  in  my  name,  God  will  give  you.    This  command  I  give  you:    that  you  love  one  another.  When  the  Helper,  the  Advocate  comes,  whom  I  will  send  to  you  from  our  Abba/Ima God,  the  Spirit  of  truth  who  comes  from  God,  She  will  testify  on  my  behalf.    You  also  are  to  testify  on  my  behalf because  you  have  been  with  me  from  the  beginning...I  still  have  many  things  to  say  to  you,  but  you  cannot  bear  them  now.     

When  the  Spirit  of  truth  comes,  She  will  guide  you  into  all  the  truth;  for  She  will  not  speak  on  Her  own  but  will  speak  whatever  She  hears,  and  She  will  declare  to  you  the  things  that  are  to  come.    She  will  glorify  me...

When  a  woman  is  in  labor,  she  has  pain  because  her  hour  has  come.    But  when  her  child  is  born,  she  no  longer  remembers  the  anguish  because  of  the  joy  of  having  brought  a  baby  into  the  world.    So,  you  have  pain  now;  but  I  will  see  you  again,  and  your  hearts  will rejoice,  and  no  one  will  take  your  joy  from  you.      On  that  day,  you  will  ask  nothing  of  me.    Very  truly,  I  tell  you,  if  you  ask  anything  of  our  Abba/Ima  God  in  my  name,  God  will  give  it  to  you.    Until  now,  you  have  not  asked  for  anything  in  my  name.    Ask  and  you  will  receive,  so  that  your  joy  may  be  complete.  
 

Sermon:  Such long readings!  It is challenging to bring a focus to all three of today’s readings.  Mostly we hear God’s love in the challenges of our lives.  In our First Reading, Elijah is discouraged and ready to give up.  He wants to die.  But God has other plans for him.  He goes on to become one of the great prophets in spite of his deep despair.  Our Second Reading is a lovely affirmation of the young Christian community—that they should encourage each other and greet each other with a kiss. Thus begins the practice of lovingly greeting one another, an outward sign of their community.  This kiss on either cheek was a way of symbolizing that all offences were forgotten and forgiven, and that there was nothing but peace and goodwill between them.  I think our kiss of peace is a beautiful example of this; we build our connections by greeting each other with peace and friendship. 

In our gospel, Jesus has so much to tell the disciples before his death.  It sounds as if he speaks in run-on sentences.  Live on in my love; live on by keeping my commandments; I call you friends; I can’t tell you everything because it will overwhelm you but the Spirit will help you; it will be rough for a while, like a woman in labor but then your joy will be complete.  So much!  We are indeed overwhelmed.  Each of us may focus on a specific part but I can’t help focus on the context; that Jesus is dying.

Our dear friend, Mike has been actively dying for several days now.  It’s been a difficult reality, mostly because he’s been dying for several years really.  We got used to him being with us in many different states of being but now that his death is so near, it’s mind boggling.  Death has a way of being very unreal to us.  We don’t want to believe it because we are left with such a vacuum.

When Jesus died, there must have been a deafening silence.  Strange that silence can be so powerful.  Elijah found God in the still small voice of silence.  Silence is most noticeable when we are used to hearing the loud, impressive shouts of the world or when we have heard someone’s voice so often that its absence startles us. 

Friday night, Anna graduated from City High.  For those of you who don’t know, the graduation is held in Carver Hawkeye arena.  It’s a huge venue that can be filled with a loud announcer and fans cheering.  For graduation, it was more subdued.  We were sitting where I knew we could see Anna.  What I didn’t know what that each student would be on the jumbotron as they walked in.  As the 400 students passed by the video camera, some family members would cheer.  There were only four of us who were at the graduation for Anna so when she showed up, I didn’t expect much.  But, I was deeply touched when many cheered for her.  Then, when it was time for the students to cross the stage to receive their diploma, I was anxious to see how Anna would do.  First, she shook hands with the vice principal, then, as she approached the principal, she opened her arms wide for a hug.  He gave her a big hug in return and the entire audience responded with a huge cheer and applause.  I was so moved by how everyone seemed to recognize what a big accomplishment this was for Anna.  There are no words for that show of kindness.  Anna is mostly silent but even she can be heard.  Most people seem to understand that she has gifts all her own to offer.   

Today is Trinity Sunday.  I’m reminded of the Law of Three—the third way of seeing things that is what causes things to happen.  Cynthia Bourgeault teaches that this is the way of God—“Imagine how the energies of our planet would shift if we as Christians took seriously our obligation to work with the Law of Three as our fundamental spiritual praxis. Face to face with the vast challenges of our times—environmental, economic, political—we would avoid making judgments (because according to the Law of Three, denying force is a legitimate player in every equation), set our sights higher than “winners and losers”, and instead strive in all situations to align our minds and hearts with third force.”  I’ve forgotten the power of the Law of Three and wanted to invite us on this Trinity Sunday to remember it.  We are not “either or” people.  We know that there is a third force that operates in our lives.  It takes mindfulness to open our hearts and minds to this third force, to recognize its role in change. 

A good example of this is whenever there is conflict, we need to look for what might help transform the event.  Cynthia proposes we use a sacred gesture of surrender by saying, “Not my will but Thy will be done.”  It relaxes us into new possibilities.  Silence may be our gesture; a pause to shift into holding the tension of good/bad, like/dislike and to invite the Spirit to guide us.  In this way we “become a vessel for Trinitarian creativity to manifest new possibilities in our world.

This helps me with Trump, to stop my anger and to believe that perhaps his extremism is creating a force that will not allow such prejudice and disregard for human rights.  Certainly our youth are becoming outspoken proponents of change for gun laws and the environment.  We cannot know what life holds for any of us but we can use silence as a way of taking time to trust.  Let silence be our sacred gesture, a commitment to believe even when we despair. 

I invite us to take a moment of silence right now to honor those who have died in the military, for Mike, for making a commitment to the Law of Three on this Trinity Sunday.  Amen.

 May 20, 2018

sermon: John 15: 26-27 + 20: 19-22                                          
By Nick Smith

When I say “God,” what do you see in your mind?

Isn’t this [pictures] what you saw.  Of course it is!  This is what we’ve been conditioned to see since we were born. 

People, we’ve been robbed!  We’ve had the most precious gift even given to us stolen from us without permission, and it’s time we got it back.  I’m talking about the Holy Spirit ministry, the gospel preached by Jesus.  The Kin-dom Jesus presents is a family of believers grown into a nation.  Those who believe the gospel teaching of Jesus hear God's Word, they believe, they repent, they are baptized, and they receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit.  Theses believers are a new creation, a new community of God’s people, a people free and equal before their God.

In the earliest days of Christianity the effects of this Holy Spirit ministry were immediate and profound; the Holy Spirit’s presence was both a great energizer and great equalizer in the Christian community. 

In today’s gospel, on Easter evening, Jesus, after appearing to Mary Magdalene, Mary, the Mother of James, Salome, and Joanna, Peter and two disciples on the Emmaus road, breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Imagine how incredible this must have been.  On this day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus—on both men and women.

And Jesus gave the Helper from our loving God as promised. Jesus said, “She is the spirit of Truth, proceeding from the mouth of God.  She is Wisdom, God’s words, God’s breath.  She will testify about Jesus. You will testify also….”

The Holy Spirit equips both men and women for ministry. In every New Testament passage that speaks about spiritual gifts there is no gender distinction implied or stated, even for leadership and teaching gifts.  The Holy Spirit gives her gifts as she determines without an apparent regard for gender, but we’ve been robbed of this gift.

And what is the wisdom of the Holy Spirit given to us?  Well, the purpose of God’s saving activity in Jesus is, as far as the Holy Spirit revealed to the disciples, the creation of a renewed community of God’s people. Within this community, all distinctions of race, sex and religious history are removed and transcended. The barriers which separated people in the old age are abolished. All disciples are equal before God and each other.  In other words, the theological context for understanding Jesus’ teachings about the role of believers in the church is the conviction that a new age of equality has begun: As St. Paul stated: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17)

The early disciples of the church believed the future world had already broken into the present and manifested itself as a new age. It is a new creation which reveals a conjunction with the pre-Fall creation and a complete separation from the old world. It is a community of people freed from the curse of history begun in Genesis 3. This means that [for Paul] the community under Christ and in the Spirit cannot be compared with the old world; it does not live out of its values nor is it bound to its mores, laws or societal roles.

The source of this new reality is, of course, Jesus Christ. God’s act in Christ serves to condemn this world and to justify the sinful (Rom. 4). For the early Christians, this means that the old world is destroyed; the repressive basis of its existence has been superseded by love. In the new age every person stands free and equal before a gracious God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).  Paul knows that there will continue to be distinctions among people, since people are different and have different gifts (1 Cor. 12), but he consistently rejects any value judgments made on the basis of these distinctions, like gender.

          The Holy Spirit’s ministry sent by God, commanding the equality between Jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female lasted for a few hundred years in the early Christian church, but by 600 CE, the influence of Jewish, Greek and Roman societal norms had displaced this understanding of Christianity with the structured patriarchal roles of society. The concept lasted longer in the Eastern Catholic Church [850 CE] but eventually it also gave way to established culture.  The early ideals of equality for all were turned into a hierarchy of powerful men running the show and subjugating everyone else.

We’ve been robbed of the Holy Spirit and our rightful place in the Kin-dom of God! Christianity became firmly rooted in the Greco-Roman culture and pursued a concerted effort to restrict the role of women and disadvantaged males in the Church.   St. Peter’s Basilica was built by Constantine in 333 CE. After that, the Greco-Roman cultures crept back into the Christian theology and the Roman system of “status” dominated the structure of the Christian church.  Once women were no longer needed for financial support or patronage, they were cut out of the church in order to eliminate their substantial influence within the structure of the early church. Women were depicted as temptresses, as the cause of all sin, as deformed males and as not having been created in the image of God.

          Aristotle and Plato were significant voices that influenced Christian thought to a large extent; their influence remains significant even today in the gender debate as both have had a substantial influence on the Catholic Church Fathers' views and ideas about women by promoting the basic patriarchal assumption that the male is the normative and representative expression of the human species and the female is not only secondary and auxiliary to the male but lacks full human status in physical strength, moral self-control, and mental capacity. The lesser 'nature' thus confirms the female's subjugation to the male as her 'natural' [divine law] place in the universe.

Let me illustrate this.  The doctrine of the Catholic Church on ordination, as expressed in the current Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that "Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination.  The Catholic Church teaches that this requirement is a matter of divine law and thus doctrinal.

Christianity was also influenced by the socio-cultural background of their own time to convey the message of God to the people of their time. Thus, human authors of the Holy Scriptures used masculine metaphors for God, especially 'Abba' or 'Father' in an analogical sense, taking into consideration the position of human beings in their own cultural situation. They used masculine metaphors for better understanding and for acceptance of God's Word as an authoritative message. Biblical authors perceived God in the same way they perceived their own societies.  Unfortunately the metaphor of God as “Father” or male is so a part of Western Christian culture that it leaves little room for other metaphors for the Divine. Patriarchal structures of history and those that exist today (in both church and secular society) preserve the dominant male metaphor, which appears in liturgy, creeds, and prayers.

It’s important to note that neither masculine nor feminine images for God are bad. The qualities we associate with them are qualities God possesses. The problem is when masculine metaphors, which tend to be about domination, authority, control, and power, take over.  The issue is not that mothers are better than fathers, but that a particular way of imaging ‘father’ can produce a distorted form of Christianity—as if Christianity is about meeting the requirements of an authority figure who will punish us if we don’t get it right.”

Christian churches [especially Roman Catholic] have translated this masculine metaphor into how women see themselves as subservient to men, and how men see women and themselves.  The Catholic Church asserts that this is divine law and cannot be changed. This is a very difficult relationship to undo because it’s been used for hundreds of years by religious authorities.  

I will submit; however, that divine law can be changed.  Pope Pious IX stated: "Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. ...  This is no longer part of Canon law, having been totally removed in 1965 by the Vatican II Council. 

Here is my point concerning today’s gospel and the Kin-dom that Jesus laid out for his followers.  God is transcendent; God is beyond culture, tradition, race and gender. God as Spirit is not male nor female, but incorporeal—not composed of matter; having no material or physical existence, and God transcends all creation because God is the creator and cannot be confined to any gender, color or race.

God’s intention and Christian practice in the early church was a model of equality for every disciple of Christ.  The Holy Spirit’s presence and ministry was the great equalizer in the Church, but it was stolen by a patriarchal society, by Roman influences of male dominance, by Greek philosophies of masculine superiority, stolen by greed, stolen by jealousy and stolen by the hierarchical structure of the Roman Empire. We are so conditioned by our culture that we are hard pressed to see God as a spiritual “friend” and not as our Lord and Master, our patriarchal “father” or our king.

Our church, our equality and the Kin-dom of God were stolen from us by factors unrelated to Christ’s breathing of the Holy Spirit into us.  We were robbed of the intended heritage and future promised by Jesus.  My hope is that I am working with the Holy Spirit by promoting and fostering equality and a truly caste-less Christianity in any way that I possibly can.   I do not want to work against the Holy Spirit by being silent while there remains stifling, unjust, and damaging hierarchies and caste systems in the Body of Christ and in the world. It is time that the Church given to us by the Holy Spirit is taken back by us, the disciples of Jesus Christ.

April 22, 2018

​THE GOOD SHEPHERD

John 10:1-18                         
Today’s gospel calls attention to the odd juxtaposition of two Jewish festivals in chapter 10.  Jesus has been in Jerusalem for the fall Festival of Booths, or Sukkot—with its emphasis on water and light.  By John 10, we find ourselves at the winter Festival of the Dedication, which takes place three months after Sukkot. This event is known as Hanukkah. During Hanukkah, Jesus declares Himself [once again] to be the light of the world, and ratified this claim by healing a man born blind.

The Pharisees excommunicated the (now healed) man born blind; thus, they have expelled from God's flock the man whom Christ Himself enlightened. They are scattering the sheep that Christ came to gather. In this way, Jesus' estrangement from official Judaism is further developed as he calls into being a people who follow him rather than the leaders of Israel. The Pharisees ask the sarcastic question, “Are we blind also?”  Jesus rebuked them for their spiritual blindness. He criticizes them for their failures as the spiritual shepherds of Israel. The teaching of Jesus is that He is the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, and dies for His flock.

Jesus proclaims Himself to be “the door for the sheep.” There is only one door to the sheepfold, only one way into the kin-dom of God. Jesus is the only way! Jesus is the Shepherd of Israel, but His flock includes those out of every nation, male and female, throughout all of time, who respond to His call.

Who are the scattered sheep that will become one flock and who will gather them? We get a glimpse of this plan in today’s first and second readings.  We see in both the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letter to the Roman the unfolding of God’s plan to reach the nations and all people regardless of race, sex, or stature.

After the baptism of the spirit, 3000 people are converted through the speaking of tongues by the disciples.  Three years later, Stephen is martyred with the approval of Saul of the Sanhedrin for preaching that the temple was no longer needed because the scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus.  Paul is converted on his way to Damascus carrying letters of extradition for Christians.  Paul teaches “the way” to the gentiles in Arabia and Asia.   At the Council of Jerusalem, Paul argues successfully that Gentile Christians need not follow Jewish law. Claudius, the Roman emperor, expels all Jews and Christians from Rome in c. 49.   Priscilla and Aquila were in Corinth after leaving Rome.  They take Paul in and work and preach together for two years.  They travel to Ephesus with Paul where they establish a church in their home while Paul goes on to Jerusalem.  They hear Apollos preaching in the Synagogue.  He was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, described as “eloquent,” “mighty in the Scriptures,” “fervent in the spirit” and “instructed in the way of the Lord.” However, at that time, Apollos’ understanding of the gospel was incomplete, since he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John.” This probably means that Apollos preached repentance and faith in the Messiah—but he did not know the full magnitude of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Priscilla and Aquila spent some time with Apollos and filled in the gapes of his preaching.  There seems to be no problem with Priscilla instructing a man, taboo under Jewish law and custom--there is no hint of censure in the Scriptures about Priscilla teaching a man. The fact is that women did indeed teach men, that women served as leaders and that in doing so they enjoyed God’s blessing and won the praise of other believers. Priscilla instructed the learned Apollos, Lois and Eunice taught Timothy, and Phoebe is named as an overseer and a deacon in the church at Corinth.  Furthermore, believers are enjoined to teach and to learn from one another, without reference to gender.  Always named together, the Orthodox Churches commemorate Priscilla and Aquila as apostles.

Now in the second reading, the church in Rome was already flourishing when Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans about 57 CE.  He greets some fifty people in Rome. In addition to Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, there are twenty-seven names—twenty-six of them in Rome, and Phoebe (the first mentioned) on her way to Rome.

Most of these people are “ordinary” followers of Jesus who have evangelized non-Christians and helped start a number of churches in Rome.
In the closing chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul mentions no less than ten women, and Phoebe heads the list. It is believed that Phoebe delivered Paul’s letter to the Romans; so Paul introduces her to the Roman church, and, rather than a greeting, he gives her a glowing recommendation. Paul refers to Phoebe as “our sister” and he tells the Romans that she is a minister or deacon of the Corinth Church.  Paul called Phoebe a diakonos.  Diakonoi (plural) were ministers in the early church.  Paul calls her a prostatis. The etymology of this word gives the meaning ‘one who stands before’. The word is used for church leadership elsewhere in the New Testament.
Next on the list is Priscilla, with her husband Aquila. In Romans, Paul mentions that Priscilla and Aquila had even risked their lives for him.
Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia.  In his greeting, Paul states a few of their credentials: they were fellow Jews, they had suffered for their faith and been in prison with Paul, they had been Christians longer than him, and they were outstanding among the apostles [probably members of the 72].  Despite the modern mistranslation of her name as masculine "Junias" or "Junius," no commentator prior to the 13th century questioned that this

Apostle was a woman. Was the changing of her name a scribe’s mistake?  Or could it have been something more political, like an attempt to deny that women could be apostles?  All the ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts commending the outstanding apostles in Romans read either "Junia" or "Julia", both feminine forms. 

Other women greeted in Romans 16 include Mary (Rom 16:6), Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Rom 16:12). Paul writes that these women worked very hard for their Lord and the Church.
Three more Roman women—Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister—are also sent personal greetings from Paul.

Other women of Paul

A letter is addressed to the Holy Apostles of the Seventy, [72] Philemon and Apphia who lived in the city of Colossa in Phrygia.  They converted their house into a house of prayer, where all those who believed in Christ gathered and attended services.
In 2 Timothy Paul warmly mentions Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s godly grandmother and mother, church leaders.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a report sent by a woman called Chloe (1 Cor 1:10-11) who pastored in her house church.
Paul closes his letter to the Colossians with several personal comments and greetings, and he asks the church at Colossae to pass on his greetings to a woman called Nympha and to the church that meets in her house.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul greets the whole church and especially mentions the overseers (episkopoi) and deacons (diakonoi) or “chief pastors. Euodia and Syntyche [sin'-ti-ke] were pastor and deaconess of this church.
Lydia was the first Christian convert in Philippi and the first to host church meetings there. She may also have become the first pastor in Philippi starting a trend which meant that it was not unusual for women to be priests.
Written by Paul while he was in Rome, greetings are sent from a woman named Claudia, wife of Pudens a Roman senator and mother of Linus, the second Bishop of Rome.  She heads a church in her house.

Most religious scholars agree that the majority of Christians in the early days of the church were women.  Women, according to Acts, were the first to be converted among the gentiles, they established churches in their homes and pastored to other believers.  My prayer is that the church will love and trust and listen to women, and recognize, encourage and accept their ministry. It is time for the church to stop suppressing and silencing women and start embracing Paul’s ideals of mutuality and equality.  The Apostleship of in partnership with Andronicus and and Aquila remind us that God’s intention is for men and women to partner together as equals in the home, as equals in the church, and as equals in the community to gather God’s people together. 

So, on this day, let us heed God’s plan and promote the call to priesthood by all God’s people. While the Roman Catholic Church prays for vocations, the institutional Church denies women’s access to ordained ministries, rejecting women’s vocations and silencing those who support them. The Church’s stance that women are unequal to men contributes to the global oppression of women, perpetuating and legitimizing sexism.  It is written in the Book of Wisdom that “she [wisdom] can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things.  In every generation, she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets.”  Therefore, on Vocations Sunday I pray that the Church and its many communities throughout the world will hear clearly the prophets of this age, speaking from the font of holy wisdom, as they make known the call of women to the vocation of Priesthood.  May their priesthoods, centered in Christ, be recognized and received so that the church will be fully renewed.  I ask for this great joy to come to pass in the name of Jesus, our brother. AMEN.

Dear Nick, 

On April 22nd the Roman Catholic Church will mark the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, asking its members to welcome God's "unique story into their lives."

For women, this story is edited and erased by the institutional Church to exclude the possibility of their vocation to ordained ministry.  At the Women's Ordination Conference we refuse to let the stories of feminist ministries and women's ordination be erased.  

Catholic women are called by God: called to renewed priesthood; called to equality; called to full participation in the leadership of the church. We know these women, we walk with these women, we are these women.

For too long, women's calls have been suppressed, dismissed, or ignored by the institutional Church. Now, more than ever, is the time to triumph women's call to renewed priesthood.

In preparing for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (April 22nd), the Women's Ordination Conference invites you to join our effort in proclaiming the good news of equality. 

Women's Ordination Conference

Kate McElwee

Executive Director

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Doubt and Faith: the Real Test

First Reading: A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35; 5:1-11

Now the whole group of those who believed was of one heart and mind. No one claimed private ownership of any possessions.  Everything they owned was held in common.  With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  They were all accorded great respect.  No one among them was in need, for those who owned land or houses sold them.  They brought the proceeds of what was sold and put them at the feet of the apostles; and they were distributed to each as any had need.  However, there was a man named Ananias who, with the consent of his wife, Sapphira, sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s knowledge, he held back some of the proceeds and brought only apart to lay at the apostles’ feet. 

“Ananias,” Peter asked, “why have you fallen prey to the Tempter, lying to the Holy Spirit and keeping back part of the proceeds of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal?  What were you thinking?  You have lied, not to human beings, but to God.” 

When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last.  Great fear came upon all who heard of it.  The younger among them rose to wrap up his body, carry it out, and bury him.  About three hours later, Sapphira, his wife, came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter said to her, “Tell me.  Did you and your husband sell the land for such and such a price?”  She responded, “Yes, that was the price.”  Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you conspired together to put the Spirit of God to the test?  Listen! The footsteps of those who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you away too.” 

At once, she dropped dead at his feet.  When the young men came in, they found her dead.  They carried her out and buried her beside her husband. A great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these things.

The Word of an Early Church Historian

Thanks be to God.

SECOND READING:  A Reading from the First Letter of John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Anointed One has been born of God. Everyone who loves the parent loves the parent's child.  In this way, we know that we love the children of God because we love God and follow God’s commandments.  For the love of God is this: that we fulfill the desire of God’s heart for the world.  And God’s commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God overcomes obstacles in the world. Our faith is the victory that conquers all fear. Who is it that conquers evil in the world but the one who believes that Jesus, who died and was raised to life, is Born of God?  This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus the Christ, not only with the water, but with the water and the blood.   And the Spirit is the one that bears witness, for the Spirit is Truth. The Word of an Early Church Theologian.

Thanks be to God. 

GOSPEL:  A Reading from the Gospel attributed to John20:24-29

Thomas, called the “Twin”, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when the risen Jesus first came to them in the locked upper room.  When the other disciples saw him, they said, “We have seen the Christ.”  But Thomas replied, “Unless I can see the holes the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, unless I can put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later, the disciples were again inside where they had been that first day, but Thomas was with them this time.   Although the doors again were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here.  See my hands.  Give me your hand. Put it into my side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  Thomas answered, “The Messiah! My God!’  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The Gospel of our God.

Praise to You, Jesus the Christ.

Sermon:  How many of you are still stuck on our first reading?  I know I was.  I’d never heard that story before and find it quite disturbing.  That people could die for not telling the truth is terrifying.  Not that I’m big on lying but how dramatic that both husband and wife die instantly for not sharing their property with the early Christian community.  I’m not sure if that would cause me to have more faith or to run for the hills.  I worry that this very scripture has given sanction to many Christian churches for public shaming.  So, I want to be very clear; yes, this is our First Reading, but I do not believe it should be used as a weapon for judgment of others.  Fear is never a healthy basis for faith.  Most of us were raised in fear:  If you’re not good, Santa won’t bring you any toys.  God is always watching.  He knows your every thought.  It works but it’s not a healthy thing.  Much harm has been done by churches operating in Jesus name by bringing a person to the front of the church and shaming them.  That will never be us.

Now we can move to Thomas.  Dear Thomas—he’s such an easy scapegoat because he’s honest.  He says what he’s thinking and when he doesn’t understand, he asks.  He’s the one who, when Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for us said, “We don’t know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  He states the obvious.  “We do not understand what you are telling us, Jesus.”  That takes bravery.  Most of us don’t ask the obvious.  We remain silent, wondering if everyone else gets it.  It is the one who cares enough to risk ridicule who asks.  That’s Thomas.

There is a Gospel of Thomas which was found in 1945, at Nag Hammadi, Egypt.  Some say it is the first gospel and dates back to 40 AD.  Others say the exact opposite, that much of it is based on the canonical gospels.  It is not certain who wrote it, although it is attributed to Didymus, which is Greek for “twin.” Thomas has always been known as the apostle who was a twin.  This Gospel of Thomas doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ life.  Rather it is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus, sometimes sayings that stand-alone or ones that are embedded in short dialogues or parables. John’s gospel seems to use parts of the Gospel of Thomas and some theologians believe that the Doubting Thomas story was an author-to-author sparring of key beliefs; that Jesus was resurrected in bodily form.  In later traditions, it was believed that Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus and died in his place.  Now that would pose all sorts of problems for the basis of Christianity!  The Gospel of Thomas has never been sanctioned as a canonical or authoritative work.  Thus, while it may be a curious find, it has never been used in any Christian theology.

What’s most important is that only in John’s gospel do we hear about Thomas.  No one is sure why that is except for the previous explanation.  Nevertheless, in John we understand that Jesus was very much aware that Thomas was missing on his first visit to the apostles after the resurrection.  Some say, Thomas was missing because he was the only one willing to be seen in public, going about his life and risking being accused as a follower.  Much like Mary Magdalene, Thomas was willing to risk his life for Jesus.  Both Thomas and Mary Magdalene were the ones who wanted to touch Jesus, showing their deep love of him.  They are seekers, wanting to understand; reaching out to God in a time of need. 

This time, when Jesus visits, Thomas is there.  Somehow, Jesus knows what Thomas has said because he addresses Thomas and his request directly.  “Go ahead.  Put your fingers here.  Touch my hands.  Believe!”  And Thomas responds immediately with the voice of belief—My Messiah and my God!  Those words are complete affirmation that Thomas is on board.  None of the other disciples are as clear.  Jesus doesn’t correct him.  Thomas has spoken the truth about who Jesus really is.  Not a ghost or an angel, but God as well as Redeemer.

And yes, Jesus does admonish Thomas but it’s indirect.  “Do you believe because you have seen?  Blessed are those who have not seen but still believe.” Perhaps Thomas is providing us the affirmation.  After all, Jesus is speaking to us too, right?  We aren’t there.  We will never be able to see with our own eyes.  Jesus knows that there is so much we cannot prove.  Can I prove that I am loved?  Not really.  Can we prove that we are worthy?  No.  We cannot even prove that God loves us except that we have this story in scripture.  This story about a man named Jesus.  And today, one of his devoted friends who claims he is our Messiah and our God.  That’s it.  That’s our proof. We can choose to live in doubt or we can choose to believe.   For me, belief is the only answer that makes sense.  Belief gives us hope and richness and meaning.  I choose to believe that I am loved by a God who understands suffering and tragedy; not a distant God who sit above and beyond but a God who is intimately part of our lives. We live and we believe.  That is enough.  Most of the time.  We all have times when we doubt, when we do not understand, when we wonder if this is all for naught.  I believe that faith is a choice.  We choose to believe.  We decide whether or not we are going to believe, even when life gives us every reason NOT to believe. 

On Weds. I met with a young couple who have two children ages 3 and 5.  The husband is dying and cannot verbalize due to metastases to his brain which has affected the speech centers.  He is aphasic which means he can understand what is being said but can only respond with yes or no.  It’s a cruel condition when his life is ending.  I spoke with his wife and parents, since children’s grief is one of my specialties.  I hope I helped them know how to talk with their children but they are being asked to bear so much.  I left, and wondered, why this is happening?  Every single time I meet a family like this, I ask why.  Why would such a young family be burdened with the unthinkable?  The wife may lose her faith because of this.  The parents may as well.  Who else will be affected by their story?  Many, for sure.  It will take time and an incredible amount of love and healing to redeem this loss. 

We cannot know all the mysteries of life.  The challenge is to not lose faith in the midst of our doubts.  I believe that’s what Thomas was doing.  Doubt comes when we do not understand.  Life holds so much mystery, how can we possibly understand it all.  Doubt helps us bridge the wide gulf between logic and mystery.  Doubt enables us to sustain hope, hope that eventually, more life will blossom from such darkness.  That’s the core of our belief; a belief in the resurrection which overcomes all darkness, ultimate darkness and death. As we heard in our second reading, “Our faith is the victory that conquers all fear.”

 May we choose to believe most of the time.  And when we doubt, may it be a bridge, suspending our hearts that so want to believe.  May we voice that doubt as Thomas did so that God can help answer it with a display of him/herself, however subtle or direct it might be.  We cannot know it all.  That’s where belief comes in.  May we all live with the blessing of belief and doubt as we live into its answers.  Amen.

How do you deal with doubt?


WHAT THOMAS WANTS (Andrew King, 2016)
(John 20: 19-31)

Thomas knows all about crucifixion.
Knows the nails driven into the victim
really tear the flesh,
damage the bones.

And he knows that this
is a crucifying world,
with all its violence,
greed and oppression

still hammering nails into the hands of justice,
still thrusting spears through the ribs of love,
still hanging mercy and kindness to die
and sealing up the tomb.

Thomas knows all about it. So he knows that any real resurrection
will have to come out of ruin,
will have to come out of suffering,

will have to come out still bearing the scars
inflicted by the unjust world.

Ask him not if he believes in
merely a God
who is greater than suffering or death;
any God worth the name
would surely prove immortal,
who may be able to pretend our pain
but could never share it in truth.

No, what Thomas wants to see
is the Lord who rises from
death by crucifixion,

who rises
from the worst that our world can do:

who rises
from hells of corruption and cruelty,
who rises
from violence and terror and hate,
who rises
from rape and torture and war,
who rises
from hunger and disease and squalor,
who rises
torn and terribly scarred
yet walking among us still,

who will touch us in our woundedness,
who will hold us in
our brokenness,
who sees in us
the prints left by the nails,

who will put his own hurt hand upon
our heartache, fear and despair
and breathe his healing peace
into our souls.

This is who Thomas wants to see – the only
Lord he wants to believe in.

Thomas just wants to see
Jesus.    

Easter 2018
April 1, 2018
First Reading: A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 9:1-10a, 17-19

Saul continued to breathe murderous threats against the disciples of Jesus.  He had gone up to the High Priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus.  The letters would authorize him to arrest, and take to Jerusalem, any followers of the Way that he could find, both women and men.  As Saul traveled along and was approaching Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed about.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you?” Saul asked.  The voice replied, “I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me.  Get up now and go into the city, where you will be told what to do.”  Those traveling with Saul were speechless.  They heard the voice, but could see no one.  Saul got up from the ground unable to see, even though his eyes were open.  They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus.  For three days, Paul remained blind.  During that time, he ate and drank nothing.  There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias.  When Ananias entered the house where Saul was staying, he laid hands on Saul with the words, “Saul, my kin, I have been sent by Jesus the Christ, who appeared to you on the way here, to help you recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he regained his sight.  He got up and was baptized. His strength returned after he had eaten some food.

Second Reading:  A Reading from the Letter to the Colossians 3:1-4

Christ is risen!  And you have been raised with Christ!  Since resurrection is already yours, let cosmic mysteries fill your hearts with ecstasy. Wonder at earth’s precious and finite place in the cosmos.  Set your mind on virtues that endure. Jesus died.  You also will die.  You have already known death and loss.  In baptism, you died with Jesus the Christ.  Trust that your cosmic life, like Jesus’, is already real.  It may be hidden in God, nestled in God’s womb; but, when the Cosmic Christ is revealed in fullness, you also will be birthed into wholeness.

Gospel Reading:   John 20:1,11-18

Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  Mary stood, crying, outside the tomb.  While weeping, she stooped down and saw two angels inside.  They were dressed in white and were sitting, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus' body had lain. The angels asked Mary, “Why are you weeping?”  She answered, “They have taken away my Teacher, and I don't know where they have put him.”  As soon as Mary said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. She did not recognize him.

Jesus asked her, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Thinking Jesus was the gardener, Mary said, “Sir, if you have taken his body away, please tell me, so I can go and get him.” 

Then Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned.  She said to him, “Rabbouni”--which means “Teacher.”  Jesus then told her, “Don't hold on to me! I have not yet gone to the Beloved. But tell my other disciples that I am going to my Beloved and your Beloved, my God and your God.”  Mary Magdalene then went to the disciples with the message, “I have seen the Teacher!” And she told them what he had said to her.

Sermon:

Have you heard about red eggs?  I brought some so you would remember the legend told about Mary Magdalene.  After the resurrection, legend has it that Mary went to the Roman Emperor to tell him about Jesus rising from the dead.  He said that he would not believe unless a nearby basket of eggs turned red.  Miraculously, the eggs turned red!  So, in many countries, eggs are died red in memory of Mary Magdalene’s bravery and to celebrate Easter.  Also, many Greek Orthodox peoples give up eggs for Lent so they boiled their eggs to keep them.  They too died these eggs and then broke their fast on Holy Saturday by eating the eggs.  Red is also the color of love, of passion and of suffering.  We cannot forget the blood that was shed by Jesus to get to the resurrection.  May we remember the whole story symbolized by these eggs.

Today we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead and we hear about Mary Magdalene who is really the patron saint of RCWP.  Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala was known as the apostle to the apostles.  She was a strong financial supporter of Jesus which was highly unusual at that time.  Mary became a close confidante.  His lover? That’s probably pushing it a bit too far.  What we do know is that Jesus viewed her with the same respect as the male disciples.  He taught her about his mission, he shared his message with her, just as he taught the men.  She came to believe in him as a great teacher.  Her Rabounni.  Mary trusted Jesus to never fail her.

Mary Magdalene was there at the crucifixion and witnessed it with her own eyes.  The horror.  The dashing of all hope.  Gone.  Dead.  Her grief was evident as we hear in the scriptures.  She was lost and must’ve wondered how it could’ve happened.  Jesus’ death was so unexpected, so rushed.  Because it was the Sabbath, they buried Jesus in haste.  No spices were sold, nothing was sold on the Sabbath so the women had to wait until the next day. 

Mary arrives at the tomb and in her grief must’ve forgotten that there would be a stone to roll back before she could wash and anoint Jesus, the Jewish burial ritual that women would perform for a loved one.  Did she come alone?  Today’s reading makes it seem as if she did.  What did she expect to find? 

Hoping against hope, she discovers an empty grave.  The only possible explanation is that the body has been moved or stolen.  Really?  How can this be?  Another indignity to the already overwhelming indignities Jesus suffered.  Mary cries out in disbelief, in anger.  Where is he?  Where is my God?  How is this possible?  I wanted one last time to honor him, to anoint him. 

And then, in one word, all that desperation is changed.  “Mary.”  That voice.  She’d heard it a thousand times before but this time, it takes her breath away.  Her joy cannot be contained.  It’s as if she’s been hit by lightening; a conversion stronger than Saul’s falling from his horse and regaining his eyesight.  An affirmation from her God, a God her knows her intimately.  The voice of recognition.  He loves me for me.  And all Jesus said, all he foretold has come true in that instant for Mary.  Of course!

Mary’s instinct is to hug, to embrace, something all of us as human beings want to do, especially once a loved one has died.  Just to hug them one more time.  But Jesus interrupts Mary; he is indicating that things have changed.  It’s a new story now.  He says to Mary, “Go and tell my other disciples the news.”  In these words, Jesus commissions her an apostle, an evangelist, since she was the first human being to see him as the risen Christ.  She needed to be the one.  Such a privilege.  Jesus knew he could trust Mary to deliver his message to the apostles and to the rest of the world.  This is why RCWP claims Mary Magdalene as our hero.  She was called.  We are called as well.

So why didn’t the apostles believe her?  In Jewish law we know that there must be at least two witnesses to verify an event.  And a valid witness was only a male; women didn’t count.  The male witness had to be a free man who was not deaf, mentally or morally unsuitable, or too young for Bar Mitzvah.  These men would need to both see and hear the event.  So Mary’s witness didn’t matter, at least not to the men of that time. 

Only in Mark’s gospel do we hear how the disciples react:  In chapter 16 verse 11 it says, “When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.”  And Jesus has a response to this: “Later as they were eating, Jesus appeared to the eleven and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”  Jesus is not messing around.  We are fools to not believe.  April Fools for sure!  We may joke about this being the same day as April Fools this year but it is most appropriate for those who ignore this Easter celebration, who say, it never happened and it makes no difference in my life.  My own sons were asking me to tell the story since they are on the fence.  It’s painful to have to allow others to decide, to determine their own beliefs.  I would never call them fools.  But I hope that they can embrace an awareness of how different life is because of Jesus’s message.  Our world needs Jesus’ message.  The death of so many youth who now cry out for change—they are led by a God of change, change for good. 

         The main part of Jesus message is love.  What we may fail to notice is that love causes change.  And we so resist change.  But change has been part of Jesus message all along.  Why would his death and resurrection be any different? Yes, a woman is the first witness of this change where death is not the end.  Yes, a woman is commissioned to tell the story.  Yes, women are equal.  Jesus begs for radical change that our church still cannot embrace.  We have fools among us.  Mary Magdalene represents the first woman to have to endure the sins of history, being called a prostitute, mentally ill, a disgrace all because she was a strong woman who clung to her convictions, supporting Jesus through his life and death.

Men may have tried to diminish her worth, her significance but today, this Easter, by speaking Mary’s name, we give credence to her validity as an amazing witness to new life.  We claim her witness as true.  We rejoice that Jesus was so unconventional as to defy the Jewish law of his time and so confident in Mary to deliver his final message.  Now we become the messengers of the gospel, that women are valid, that all people are valid.  We become the trustworthy apostles who can speak of Jesus’ message in this day and age.  We proclaim a message of radical love.  Love changes things.  Love changes everything, if we let it. 

Finally, some have asked why Mary Magdalene was the one; why was she the one who got to see Jesus first? Some say it was because she was the only one still seeking him.  That’s what love causes; a desire to seek God in the midst of life.  It’s a lesson for all of us.  May we continue to seek Jesus each and every day of our lives.  Who knows what surprises, what conversion that will bring.

Let us celebrate this Easter as a day of change; change that means nothing will ever be the same again.  Thanks be to God.  Alleluia.  Amen.

What does Easter mean to you?  

Sunday, March 11, 2018                                            Gospel of Mark 14: 1-9
The anointing of Jesus                                                       
Nick Smith
 

Distribute the spikenard. 

The account of the anointing of Jesus by a woman occurs in all four gospels, yet with differing portrayals of this woman and various descriptions of the act of anointing.

Breakdown:

Before the Passover: Mark and John – Matthew and Luke give no date
At Bethany: Matthew, Mark and John, not Luke
House of Simon: Matthew & Mark at Simon the leper, Luke at Simon the Pharisee, and John at Martha, Mary and Lazarus’s house
The woman: John says Mary, Luke says a sinner, Matthew and Mark doesn’t identify
Poured the ointment: Matthew, Mark and John
Where anointed: Matthew and Mark on head, Luke and John on feet
Wipes with hair: Luke and John
Objections: Luke-Pharisee, Matthew-disciples & Judas, John-Judas, Mark unnamed
Why not sell: Matthew, Mark and John
Jesus’ rebuke: Matthew, Mark & John—Luke gives a parable
Day of burial: Matthew, Mark and John
Always have poor: Matthew, Mark, and John
Woman remembered: Matthew and Mark 

Today’s Gospel scene [the anointing of Jesus] agrees on only three points: 1) Jesus was anointed by a woman, 2) the woman used an ointment, and 3) there are objections to the act. 

We should probably look more at this woman and remember her as Jesus said. 

Though it is often dismissed as little more than preparation for death, there is more to it than a mundane burial ritual. The anointing act conjures up sacred Old Testament connotations to ancient heritage, priestly rituals, the consecration of kings, and the prophetic figure of the Messiah, which literally means “One Smeared with Oil”. 

A popular designation for the promised future king of Israel was “Anointed One.” This title evolves from God’s method of marking people set aside for a specific purpose and granting them authority. The high priest of the temple was anointed before service. Samuel, the priest and prophet, anointed King Saul and King David. Not only were these men handpicked by God for a special task, they were empowered by the presence of The Spirit and protected by their status as God’s anointed. The prophet Isaiah, looking forward to the future promised king and savior of Israel, names the one who would remove all burdens from his people as the “Anointed One.” 

The only time Jesus is literally “Smeared with Oil” is by a woman serving as God’s anointing hand. The woman reveals the identity of the Messiah, much like Peter’s proclamation “You are the Christ!” but with one significant exception.

Immediately after his declaration, Peter denied the necessity of Jesus’ death, thereby revealing a lack of understanding and immature faith – a lapse Jesus called satanic. 

The woman’s act reveals complete understanding and mature faith. Not only does she believe Jesus is the Christ, but she accepts his death is an integral part of his Messianic destiny. Jesus can only gain His throne by his pending death; therefore,

her anointing is declared by Jesus as preparing Him for the grave. She does not use her voice to declare prophecy, but her symbolic act speaks for her.  The woman’s anointing declares her faith that Jesus is the Messiah and foretells that he will die to become the Savior of his people. 

It is significant that a woman serves as the anointing agent. Anointing proclaimed kings, ordained priests, and heralded the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament. It transferred authority from God. The one who anointed and the ritual itself were recorded and lauded as defining moments. God chose this woman as the hand to anoint Jesus—the most important anointing of all. 

It is easy to let her gender confuse the true importance of this occasion. Her gender clouded the disciples to the true meaning of her act. They belittled her and esteemed her service in monetary terms only, disregarding her spiritual edge. But the symbolism was not lost on Jesus. He understood and said her act “will also be told in memory of her.” She poured the oil to memorialize him, but he says to remember her.  She is [in effect] a high priest.

The contrast between this woman and her objectors could not be starker. While critical of her, none of the disciples are willing to undertake the task of feet washing [or anointing] just a few days later at the Passover meal. It is Jesus who gets down on his knees and washes their feet to reinforce the same lesson this woman has already given them. Having done so, Jesus returns to his place and explains: “You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.” (John 13:13-14). 

This woman, whoever she was, has done so without being asked. That is how love and gratitude is displayed—without asking.  The fact that a woman anointed Jesus is noteworthy. In a similar way, women were the first to receive and were entrusted with the wonderful witness of the resurrection to the male disciples. None of the eleven disciples was first to the tomb. These women met the criteria of apostleship, even though a woman’s witness was not accepted in the legal courts, and rabbinic Judaism reflected prejudicial devaluing of women.

During Jesus’ passion, the women serve as disciples in that they “follow” Jesus and recognize that Jesus’ mission includes crucifixion, burial, and resurrection on the third day. They also “embark on a journey that may lead to the loss of their own lives for his sake.” 

All four anointing narratives can be compared in that the woman is voiceless; it is men who speak, become indignant, and verbally censure either the woman or Jesus. The stories of Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians; the story of the anointing woman is virtually forgotten.” The woman in Matthew, Mark and Luke loses her name, and in the four stories, the woman’s voice is not heard. However, each time, Jesus notes that this woman is the quintessential faithful disciple. 

This woman’s action reveals the proper basis for evaluating our own actions: Do we do what we do because we love and treasure Jesus? She didn’t do this anointing out of duty or pragmatism, but out of sheer devotion for Christ. She did what she did because she had a perception of Christ that even the apostles at this point lacked. She knew that He was worthy of extravagant love. When Jesus is your treasure, you will do what you do out of love for God.

 A different reading and perspective: 

March 30, 2015 by Kay Bonikowsky

The Junia Project [blog]

It was as if I heard the words of old.  “Arise. Anoint him. This is He.” 

As Samuel before me, I thought, “What better place than in the midst of his brothers?” I glanced around at his friends; Lazarus, Simon Peter, James and the others. 

“Two days” echoed through me. Did they not hear him? He told us that in two days, he dies. He foretells his death and his kingdom in the same sermon. How could the two relate? And yet, I have seen him bawl life into my dead brother. Can he raise himself? Two days marks something terrible … and wonderful.  Death and a kingdom.  A king in death. I could not see him go to his kingdom unprepared. My sweaty hand gripped the cool stone of the vial. 

“Anoint him.” 

Meeting his eyes, I rose and pushed my way around prostrate bodies reclining at the table. I pulled the alabaster jar from the folds of my robe. His eyebrows quizzed me as I uncorked the bottle, turning its end up and letting all the contents slip out into his hair. The brown liquid dripped down his temples and began to gather in his beard and plop onto his shoulders. A warm, earthy musk invaded my nostrils. My hand cupped his cheek, smearing the nard. His features relaxed for a moment, eyes closed and head upturned toward heaven. 

Did I expect loud cries of “Hail the king?” Well, yes. Wasn’t it obvious he deserved a proper anointing?  Instead, silence buzzed my ears. Then, cries of outrage. 

“Stop it!” Judas shouted. “Why waste this perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money used in a more noble fashion!” 

“Mary, what are you thinking?” Peter frowned and tried to grab the vial from my hand. My silent action, condemned. My motives, questioned. Shame spewed out over all the wrong things, threatening to invade me. Had I heard wrong?  I pulled my hand away. 

“Leave her alone!” Jesus scolded. “Why are you giving her a hard time about this?” He reached for my hand once more and squeezed. 

To me he said, “This is beautiful.”

To the others, “She has listened to me and knows I am soon to die. This perfume is for my burial. You have a lifetime to do good for others, but your time with me is limited.” 

Two days. I glanced around hoping the others would query him further. But they all bore the dull look of stubborn incomprehension.  Neither hearing, nor understanding. 

Jesus pressed my hand again in reassurance, and his words brought great comfort to me. “Believe me. What you have done will be remembered and admired wherever the Good News is preached.  All over the world!” He smiled. 

Two days is not the end, then.  But a beginning.  By my own hand, he is Messiah: God’s Anointed.

Sunday, March 4, 2018
Righteous Anger

FIRST READING:  A Reading from the Book of Exodus 35:20-29

Moses spoke to the whole community of Israelites, “This is what our God has commanded: All who are skillful among you shall come and make all that our God has commanded.  You will build the tabernacle and all that is in it, from the entrance of the Dwelling, to its frames, to the bread of the Presence, to the altar, and all the accessories.”  Then the whole community of Israelites withdrew from Moses’ presence.  And all those whose hearts stirred them, and all those whose spirit prompted them, brought an offering for the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, and for all its service and for the sacred vestments.  Both the men and the women came, all as their hearts prompted them. They brought brooches, rings, bracelets, necklaces.  All those who had pledged gold to God brought golden objects of every kind. All those who happened to own violet, purple, or crimson materials, finely woven linen, goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red, or fine leather, brought that.  Everyone who could make an offering of silver or bronze brought it as an offering to God.  Anyone who had acacia wood, suitable for any of the woodwork to be done, brought that.  All the skilled women set their hands to spinning, and brought what they had spun: violet, purple, and crimson materials, and fine linen. All those women whose hearts stirred them by virtue of their skill, spun goats’ hair.  The leaders brought cornelians and other stones to be mounted on the ephod and on the breast piece, as well as spices, and oil for the light, anointing oil, and fragrant incense. Every Israelite man and woman brought to God such voluntary offerings as they thought best, for the various kinds of work which God had commanded Moses to have done.

The Word of an ancient, Priestly writer.  Thanks be to God

Second Reading:  A Reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians1:26-31

Consider your own call, beloved.  Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, those deemed nothing, to reduce to nothing all those deemed something in the world. Because of this, we dare not boast in the presence of God who is the Source of our life in Jesus the Christ.  Jesus became for us Wisdom from God.  In Jesus, in Wisdom, our justice, our holiness, and our liberation are rooted, so that, as it is written: "Let anyone who boasts, boast in God."

The Word of the Apostle Paul. Thanks be to God

GOSPEL:  A Reading from the Gospel attributed to Mark 11:12-21

As Jesus and the disciples were leaving Bethany on their way up to Jerusalem, Jesus felt hungry.  Seeing a fig tree some distance away, he went to see if he could find fruit on it, but when he reached it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  So, Jesus spoke to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again.”  The disciples heard this.  Then they reached Jerusalem.  Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple. He upset the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.  He prevented anyone from carrying goods through the temple.  At the same time, he taught them, “Doesn’t Scripture say, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples’? You have turned it into ‘a den of thieves’.” News of this made it to the chief priests and the scribes. They kept looking for a way to kill him, but they were afraid of him because the crowds were amazed by his teaching.  When evening came, Jesus left Jerusalem. The next morning, as they passed by the fig tree they saw it withered to its roots.  Peter remembered.  “Look, Rabbi!” he said, “the fig tree you cursed has withered!”

 The Gospel of Our God. Praise to you, Jesus the Christ

Sermon:

There are many kinds of anger.  I found a list of twelve and I’m sure there are many more.   Behavioral anger, verbal anger, passive, self-inflicted anger, chronic, judgmental, overwhelmed, constructive, retaliatory, paranoid and deliberate, all kinds of anger that have been officially named.  The hope from this list is that we try to understand what kind of anger we tend towards so that, if it’s not a helpful expression that causes change, we can change and be more responsive about our anger, rather than reactive.

In our gospel reading, we see Jesus exhibiting two kinds of anger and we should give pause to his actions.  Perhaps Jesus was experiencing “overwhelmed anger” when he encountered that poor fig tree.  Being angry and hungry is also known as being hangry.  In his hangry state, Jesus reacts and verbally shames the tree.  He wanted something to eat.  Maybe figs were his favorite.  And this tree just doesn’t deliver the goods.  Jesus reacts in anger and later we find that the tree withers.  That’s the power of being hangry.  In the Snicker’s commercials, they say, “When you’re hungry, you’re just not yourself.”  We believe this to be true of Jesus in this instance; this was not his usual self but a human, hungry self who was overwhelmed by the demands of life.  We all know what that feels like.

         In the Temple, Jesus demonstrates what we often call righteous anger.  It’s also known as assertive or constructive anger; there’s a legitimate reason for the anger and our response is an effort to change the situation.  As we know, business dealings in the Temple were deceitful and greedy.  It was as if the Mafia was in charge, taking full advantage of their position and power and flinging all moral and religious imperatives aside. 

First, to fully appreciate why Jesus was so angry, we need to understand the money changers and their job.  Vast numbers of Jews streamed to the Temple from many nations to attend the feasts of Passover, (Pentecost and the Tabernacles are the other two feasts).  These faithful Jews had with them considerable sums of money in foreign currencies.  It was the job of the money changers to collect the money and to give them local monies in return.  Some added fees to this job, charging 4 to 8 percent for their services.  People coming from distant countries would bring their money in large denominations so as to avoid carrying a lot of small coins which were often needed to pay for items.  Also, it was unlawful to use Roman coins in the Temple.  Only Jewish coins were allowed.  Even widows were abused and had to promise their land in exchange for money.  Large sums of money were kept in the Temple and only the money changers had access to it.  Thus these money changers or shulhanis played a key role for worshippers.  They were essential to the whole experience.  It was a well-oiled system.

Secondly, when coming to the Temple, the faithful were expected to have brought a “worthy sacrifice” such as a bull, sheep, goat or a dove that underwent shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter).  Many could not bring an animal since they traveled so far.  But when a person would bring their own animal, it was deemed “unworthy” and didn’t meet “temple approval.”  Then, other animals were offered for pay, sometime for ridiculous prices.  A faithful person would make the payment, believing this animal was their offering to God.  It was taken away for the Jewish ritual slaughter which was done behind the scenes.  Instead, the animal was often brought back into the Temple through a back door to be resold to another unsuspecting pilgrim.  In this way, the Temple authorities made lots of money.

Jeremiah in the Hebrew scriptures talked about this very problem in the Temple long before Jesus.  He said that the Temple had become like a den of thieves. The people felt they could hide, safely protected from divine judgment, because they had access to the Temple, the place where God himself was said to dwell. They thought they could “steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal” because, after committing all of these sins, they could escape to the sanctuary of the Temple (Jer. 7:9). But, through Jeremiah, God delivered the bad news that the Temple was not just a hideout. The people would soon be judged for their sin, and the Temple would be destroyed. 

When Jesus encounters such dishonest practices by the money changers, he reacts with great anger.  He had come to the Temple and knew it was supposed to be a house of prayer.  He recalled Jeremiah’s anger and likewise quotes the prophet by saying, “You have made it a den of thieves.”  All Jews would’ve understood this reference.  The faithful would’ve loved Jesus reaction since it’s probably what they all were thinking but had no power to change.  Jesus is shaking up the status quo and advocating for God, effectively saying, “God deserves our respect and our honesty. People of faith will not be taken advantage of in God’s name.”

One week later, Jesus is dead.  Coincidence?  We think not.  Jesus had dared to cross the line of accusing not just the money changers, but the leaders of the Temple who would’ve sanctioned these dishonest practices.  He risked his very life.  It was a high price to pay.

Trump said we shouldn’t be afraid of the NRA; that they would be open to changing gun access.  One week later, Trump is no longer advocating for this.  He dropped all talk about changing the age for buying weapons of war.  He too fell to the greed and corruption of the NRA.  Mike Pence helped him get in line.  We should be angry about this.  Many brave teenagers are taking to the streets to say, “No more.”  They have heard their pleas being placated by Senators who call them “inspiring” but do nothing in response.  These politicians are not moved by righteous anger which implicates their true value; not human lives but money and power.  Today’s gospel is alive and well in our world today.  Refusal of gun control is our country’s form of sanctioned violence.  It’s what makes the powerful more powerful and the poor and disadvantaged, deprived of a chance for change.

It will take more walk outs and more walk ins to places of political business where the status quo needs to be shaken.  We are now part of JCIC or the Johnson County Interfaith Cluster.  It is my great hope that this will be part of systematic change here in Iowa City.  Together, we want to help give a voice to those who have no voice; and I’ve got a big mouth. No longer will we stay passive in our anger, allowing it to fester and depress us because we are too timid or afraid to express it.  We will not be like the hypocrites who worry more about being liked or not making waves.  We need a tsunami of response to change the status quo. 

Just as a reminder, we too are Temples of God, we too can be houses of prayer.  May we continue to use this Lent as an opportunity for grounding ourselves in prayer for the waves of change that are coming. 

 Friday night I went to Motown the Musical.  Remember the song, War?  I was on my feet singing it with the same anger and passion from when it was first sung.  War—huh, yeah, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.  Say it again.  These words still apply.  We still have so much to do.  Together, let us embrace that same spirit that Jesus used to risk his own death.  Let’s use our righteous, constructive, assertive anger to change the world.  Amen.

What purpose does your anger serve?  


​​February 25, 2018
Mark 9: 2 – 10 Transfiguration – by Nick Smith                   

About two months ago, I had my annual physical exam.  This year was a little different.  My wife had complained from time to time that I’m losing my hearing.  So this year, I asked the doctor to check my ears.

The doctor took out one of those old wind-up clocks and placed it on the desk, asking if I could hear it ticking.

“Yes I can,” I replied.

The doctor then took the clock across the room and asked if I could hear it ticking.

“Yes I can,” I said.

Then, the doctor opened the door, walked out of the office, and placed the clock at the far end of the corridor and shouted, “Can you hear it ticking?”

“Yes I can!” I yelled back.  Returning, the doctor said, “There’s nothing wrong with your hearing, “you just aren’t listening to your wife.” 

There is, of course, a big difference between hearing and listening!  Most of us were born hearing well, but listening is something you have to work on because it is sometimes very hard to do.  Jesus has been talking both in words and deeds, but no one seems to be truly listening.  Let me, briefly, recount for you what has been happening with Jesus in the last 21/2 years prior to his transfiguration. [John]

John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.   When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  [Hear but do not listen]
Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus, who now calls several other followers as well. [Philip, Nathanael – maybe James and John]
On the third day after Jesus’ baptism, Jesus and his disciples attend a wedding at Cana in Galilee, where Jesus works a miracle, transforming water into wine.
As Passover approaches, Jesus travels to Jerusalem, where he drives the money changers from the temple, charging them to “stop making God’s house a den of thieves”.  [Hear but do not listen]
Jesus travels to Samaria, where he speaks in metaphors and figures of speech with a Samaritan woman along with his disciples. They do not understand his metaphors.  Eventually, the woman, impressed by his knowledge of her past and by his message, tells the other Samaritans that he is the Christ. Once again, a woman is first.  [Hear but do not listen]
After several months and a few miracles, Jesus’ following increases.  In Jerusalem once again, Jesus cures a sick man at the pool of Bethzatha and orders him to pick up his sleeping mat and walk around. As it is the Sabbath, when observant Jews do not carry objects outdoors, the Jews become angry with Jesus and their anger only increases when Jesus explains that God is his father. Jesus delivers a long discourse, in which he announces that rejection of Him in favor of the traditional laws is foolish, since He represents the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. [Hear but do not listen]
Returning to Galilee, Jesus is approached by a crowd of people looking for inspiration. To feed them, he works a miracle, providing food for 5,000 people [not including women and children] with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
Later that evening, Jesus’s disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee and are surprised to find Jesus walking across the water toward them.
The next day, crowds of people come in search of Jesus, and he explains the significance of the miracle of the loaves: “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you.”  Many of his listeners are appalled by this cannibalism, and most of his disciples leave him. [Hear but do not listen]
Jesus is limiting his preaching to Galilee and staying away from Judea because the Jewish authorities want to kill him.  Now the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near.  So Jesus’ brothers said to him “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see the miracles you are performing.    Jesus replied, “My time has not yet arrived, you go up to the feast yourselves.  When he had said this, he remained in Galilee.  But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, then Jesus himself also went up, not openly but in secret.   The Jewish authorities were looking for him at the feast, asking, “Where is he?”   [Hear but do not listen]
Right after the symbolic rite of the water-pouring ceremony at the altar,the voice of Jesus is heard loud and clear in the Temple: “If any one thirst, let them come to Me and drink” [Hear but do not listen]
That night there was a great ceremony called the "Illumination of the Temple," which involved the ritual lighting of four golden oil-fed lamps in the Court of Women.  All night long the light shone its brilliance; it is said, illuminating the entire city. Jesus was teaching in the court of women just after the Feast, when the authorities bring him an adulterous woman and, in an attempt to entrap him, ask him whether or not she is guilty. Jesus responds, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”.    He declared to all who were gathered there:  “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. [Hear but do not listen]
Authorities and a crowd return to question him.  A long discourse ensues, in which Jesus responds to questions and accusations.  Jesus predicts his own death and ascension, and He urges the people not to hold his previous violation of the Sabbath against him, saying, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”.  Claiming to precede Abraham and to derive his glory from God, Jesus finally infuriates the Jewish authorities, and they try to kill him. [Hear but do not listen]
Leaving the feast, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  They reply, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”    He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.   Peter takes him aside and begins to rebuke him.  But Jesus rebukes Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!”  “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Peter doesn’t want a suffering Savior.  Peter doesn’t intend to be a suffering follower.  He wants to ride in victory with Jesus sharing His triumph over His enemies.  That’s the Messiah the rest of the Twelve are looking for.  [Hear but do not listen]

The announcement of Christ’s approaching passion and death was met with indignation by the disciples.  And then, six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John “up to a mountain”—by tradition Mount Tabor—and was “transfigured before them.”  Suddenly, Moses and Elijah also appeared. They spoke of Jesus’ “departure” at Jerusalem, the very event Jesus had just revealed to His disciples. Peter blurts out:  Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tabernacles, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.

What was Peter suggesting with these tabernacles? The prophet Zechariah had written that when the Messiah reigns on the earth, He will require all nations to come and celebrate the Feast of tabernacles. So, what did Peter request of Jesus on the mountain? Peter was pushing for the Kin-dom to begin now! But even before Peter could finish his words, God interrupted: “This is My beloved, My own; listen to Him!”   Peter flatly rejected the cross—and pushed to skip straight to the kin-dom. [Hear but do not listen]

The transfiguration confirmed that the only way to the glory Peter and the disciples wanted would come through the cross. There was no going around it.

As the fulfillment of the Feast of Booths, the episode of transfiguration was a revelation. Christ stood on Tabor, the great lawgiver of Israel on one side and the greatest of the prophets on the other, the summation of the old covenant.  Moses represents the Jewish Law and Elijah represents the Jewish Prophets. So, when God’s voice from heaven said “Listen to Him!” that indicates that the Law and the Prophets must now give way to Jesus who will replace the old way with the new way. He is the completion of the Law and the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament. God entered into his creation and illuminated it; the body of Christ was the very tabernacle of God.  The Feast of Booths [tabernacles] was fulfilled. In the Transfiguration, the apostles see the glory of the Kin-dom of God present in majesty in the person of Christ. They see this before the crucifixion so that in the resurrection they might know who it is who has suffered for them, and what it is that this one, who is God, has prepared for those who recognize Him.
What was the message Peter, James, and John were to hear? Not to share their experience of revelation until "the Son of Man should rise from the dead." While popular Jewish opinion held the just would rise in the Kin-dom, these three disciples have a hard time fathoming resurrection as "the sign" for the Kin-dom. They could not understand that their experience of Jesus on the mountain would be the faith of every Christian.

But you see, that’s the point of the transfiguration.  Life in the world as we live it every day is not the whole story.  There’s a reality beyond what we see and it’s glorious beyond all words.  Jesus lifted the corner of the veil and His three disciples saw unspeakable glory.  On the mountain they learn that Jesus himself is the living Torah, the completed Word of God. On the mountain they see the dynamics of the Kin-dom that is coming in Christ. 

The message of this gospel is clear.  To hear, we need to listen. To experience, we need to open our ears to the possibility of God's voice. Look at Jesus. Listen to his words. Open your mind and heart to his presence. We don't need to be on the top of a mountain to experience God's fullness. Just listen, truly listen and God’ Kin-dom will be realized. 

Since my physical, I’ve become a better wife listener.  Now, I need to work on becoming a better God listener.


Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018


Our Lenten Journey

 FIRST READING

A Reading from the Book of Genesis 7:11-18; 8:13, 18-19; 9:9-10, 12-14, 16

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, all the underground springs
erupted and all the windows of heaven were thrown open.  Rain poured on the earth for forty days and forty nights.  On the day the rain began, Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives entered the ark.  With them came everything and anything that had the breath of life in it, creatures of all genders. Then God shut the door behind them.  The flood continued for forty days.  The waters rose and bore the ark up, high over the earth. The flood deepened on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the waters...In the six-hundred-first year of Noah’s life, the flood dried up.  Noah opened the hatch of the ark and saw dry ground.

Noah disembarked with his wife, their sons and daughters-in-law. 

Then all the animals, both crawling and winged creatures, –every creature on the face of the earth –left the ship family by family.  And God said, “I am making My covenant with all of you that, never again, will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters. 

No, never again will a flood destroy the earth.

“I am setting My bow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between

Me and Earth.  When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it

and remember the eternal covenant between Myself, your God, and

every living thing, every last living creature on earth.”

The Word of an Ancient Israelite Writer.

Thanks be to God.
 

SECOND READING

A Reading from the First Letter attributed to Peter 3:18-22

This is what Jesus the Christ experienced:

he suffered because of the mistakes and evil acts of others.  He

clung to justice in the injustice for the sake of the unjust.  In his endurance, God was

revealed to us.  Jesus was put to death in the flesh, then transformed, alive in the Spirit.  In the Spirit, Jesus proclaimed the good news to imprisoned spirits-

Including those from the days of Noah who did not heed God’s word

when the ark was being built.  In the flood, only a few were spared –eight in all.  They were literally saved atop the waters.  The waters of baptism, which

the flood prefigures, flood us with new life.  Baptism is not a literal

cleansing of the body, but a spiritual renewal and rebirth through the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, who is with God.  Among all angels, powers, and authorities,

the Christ is the definitive word.

The Word of an early Christian Writer.   Thanks be to God 

GOSPEL

A Reading from the Gospel attributed to Mark 1:12-15

Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.  He remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.  After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the

gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kin-dom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Gospel of our God.

Praise to you, Jesus the Christ. 

Sermon: 

Forty days and forty nights.  Such a dramatic statement.  It’s a common phrase in the Bible.  We often use it to mean endurance, patient endurance.  It didn’t say it in our First Reading, but for Noah and his ark it rained 40 days and 40 nights.  And now we have Jesus in the desert for the same amount of time.  Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai.  Notice that none of these references simply says, 40 days, which would imply the nights.  We know if Jesus was in the desert for 40 days he was there for the nights as well.  But the phrase always includes the 40 nights as well.  It must be for emphasis.  When you say, “40 days and 40 nights,” it’s much more dramatic.  You might want to try it to help amplify your trials:  as in, I had to spend 3 days and 3 nights with my in-laws.  Or, I’ve been away from my grandkids for 11 days and 11 nights.  So much more impressive. 

In the Bible, whenever 40 days and 40 nights is used, it’s meant to symbolize a testing period.  Noah, Moses, and Jesus were being tested.  Jesus went into the desert for this period of time, 40 days and 40 nights.  He was without food or water.  This was a spiritual quest.  At the end of his time, Satan tempted Jesus to turn rocks into bread, a true temptation because Jesus would’ve been so hungry.  As we know, Jesus was able to resist each and every temptation, even in such a weakened state.  His trust in God is solid.  His 40 days of trial deepened his faith rather than ending it or diminishing it.

We have begun our 40 days and 40 nights of Lent.  It’s meant to be a time of trial or testing of our faith.  It’s also meant to be a time of deepening our faith such that when times are difficult, we, even in our weakness, will profess our belief in God.  We need our faith to become an instinctive response; not meaningless or thoughtless but like a well-used muscle that simply moves in response to a challenge.  Faith that is reflexive like the love we have for our children.  When tested, our love remains.  Faith can become that same way—strong and resilient.  But for most of us, it takes time and deliberate intention to build that faith muscle.

Recently, I met a woman I’ll call Fae, who at age eight had surgery for a tumor on her spine.  Unfortunately, this surgery while successful at removing the tumor caused her to become paralyzed from the waist down.  As a paraplegic, Fae put herself through pharmacy school and has been a professor for many years.  Just a few weeks ago she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Instead of being angry or resentful, her reaction was astonishing.  She said to me, “This was the perfect cancer for God to give me.  Now I don’t have to decide whether or not to get treatment because nothing works anyway.”  I couldn’t believe my ears.  When does a person applaud God’s choice of cancer?  How did she get to a faith that was this trusting? 

Fae has become my role model for trust.  Now she is planning each and every day so that she can make the most of what time she has left.  She’s now staying at the Bird House.  I volunteer there on Fridays.  For the past two weeks, I was hoping to see her but she’s been too busy.  You have to get a slot on her schedule to see her.  She is living life to the fullest even in the face of death.  I have a long way to go… to develop that kind of faith.

Faith needs to be deeply rooted.  For those of us who are cradle Catholics, we’re lucky in that part of this is in our DNA.  We were hearing and seeing prayers of faith before we were born.  Lent can be a time to clarify this faith; to reclaim some past rituals.  I’ve thought about saying the rosary.  Did you know that there are now four mysteries of the rosary?  The Sorrowful, the Joyful and the Glorious Mysteries were the ones I grew up with but John Paul II instituted the Luminous Mysteries in 2002.  I faintly remembered that but saying the rosary hasn’t been part of my spiritual practice for years.  It may be time to revisit it.

Some have said “a faith that is not tested cannot be trusted.”  If life is a breeze, then faith must be somewhat shallow is the logic of that statement.  Likewise, if life is filled with challenges and struggles, faith should be strong and true.  I not sure it always works that way.  My faith has wavered many times throughout my life, most always in response to life’s challenges.  When my brother David died 26 years ago this week, I had a faith crisis.  I could not believe in a God who would allow such a tragedy for a vibrant young man of 30 who had just gotten married. David had a future. He had gifts to give the world.  Or so I thought.  It took me two long years of wrestling with my image of God, my beliefs in how life works to reclaim a faith.  Now my faith is much different that the faith I had when David died.  I see that as a good thing, not a lack of faith or a being fickle.  For me, faith must be authentic, an expression of my lived experience.  I may never have the kind of faith that Fae has—even though it intrigues me to no end. 

My hope is that I continue to care about my beliefs and how they work to help change the world.  I want to be less judgmental and more open, to risk loving even when it hurts.  That’s part of that wilderness Jesus lived through in the desert, fighting off wild beasts and searching to find his way back home.  I’m glad there were angels to help him.  But I also hope there was a big party when he finally got back home among his friends and family.  We do our spiritual practices silently and alone but they must always lead us to deeper relationship with those we love. 

May your lent be a time of intentional practice, whatever you choose that to be.  I’ve always turned off the radio in the car during Lent.  But this year I find that songs are coming into my head, songs like John Foley’s “Only in God will my soul be at rest.”  That’s it.  Not the whole song, just that phrase which has been a lovely mantra that I sing over and over.  It’s probably a 40 second thing—my little time trial for prayer.  May your 40 days and 40 nights help to deepen your faith and renew your spirit.  Like Jesus in the desert, we will all find our way home in the end.  And there’s going to be a party.  Amen.


Sunday Feb. 4, 2018


 Jesus Heals Simon Peter’s M-In-Law


FIRST READING A Reading from the Book of Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Is not human life on earth a hard service? Are not our days like the days of field workers? Like a laborer longing for the shade, a hired hand who waits for wages? We have months of futility assigned to us. Then when evening falls, troubled nights can be our lot. While in bed we toss and wonder, “When will it be day that we may rise?”, We are filled with restlessness until dawn…. Then, our days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and can come to an end without hope. Remember that our life is but a breath. We may not see happiness again.

The Word of a Wisdom writer.

Thanks be to God.

SECOND READING A Reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 9:1-6

Am I, Paul, not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus the Christ? Are you not my work in the Christ? Although I may not be an apostle for others, I certainly am for you! I was sent to preach the Good News to you; so you are the seal of my apostleship in the Christ. My defense against those who would pass judgment on me for receiving hospitality and support is this: Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to travel with our wives as do the rest of the apostles, and Peter, and the siblings of Jesus? Is it only myself and Barnabas who do not have these rights?

The Word of the Apostle Paul.

 Thanks be to God.

GOSPEL A Reading from the Good News attributed to Mark 1:29-31

 Glory to you, O God.

As soon as Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. Jesus came, and took her by the hand, and raised her up. Then the fever left her; and she began to serve, to deacon, to them.

The Gospel of Our God.

Praise to you, Jesus the Christ.

Sermon:

I learned a new word this week:  intersectionality.  Have you heard it?  It’s been part of my education about being a white privileged woman.  And I’m learning it from my beautiful brown daughter-in-law.  Sonia is Indian as in her parents were born in India.  She was born in Canada and raised in Texas but still knows what it feels like to be seen as a minority.  Intersectionality is a theory which says that the various aspects of humanity, such as class, race, sexual orientation and gender, do not exist separately from each other, but are complexly interwoven, and that their relationships are essential to an understanding of the human condition. For example, women suffragettes won the vote for women in 1920.  But it wasn’t until 1965 that black women were able to vote.  I had never even thought about that until Sonia pointed it out to me.  That’s the invisible events that we whites don’t question or consider because they are so far from our experience.  Intersectionality is all the ways we criss-cross our judgement of others based on their skin color, their gender, their dress, their family, their job, etc. 

In our gospel we have a woman who is part of a known group—she has a daughter who is married to a man named Simon.  He and his brother Andrew were the heads of the household.  Notice that his mother-in-law has no name.  She was not important enough to be remembered and named in the scripture’s recounting of this event.  But she was important enough to Jesus.  We know she had a fever—something that could’ve been life-threatening in that day and age.  No antibiotics, no pain relievers, nothing that was going to assure her healing. 

Jesus takes her by the hand which is a very personal act.  He doesn’t just stand at the door.  He risks becoming unclean.  He risks contracting whatever illness she has.  He risks relationship out of a desire to help, a recognition of this woman as valuable.  Immediately or so it seems, she is well again.  She gets up and begins to serve.  The verb used here is diekonei, the same verb Jesus uses to describe the essence of his own ministry in Mark 10:45. Isn’t that powerful?  It is a verb that emphasizes the ability "to serve" rather than "to be served" and this is the verb that characterizes the Christ of God. The word Diekonei literally means, "kicking up dust" because the person is "on the move! We all know women like this—who you stay out of their way because they are movers and shakers.  This verb is also "to serve" that characterizes Jesus’ disciples. Simon’s mother-in-law is no  longer just someone who simply serves men all her life.  Rather she is the first character in Mark's gospel who exemplifies true discipleship. It’s important to note that it is the women who are described as having served Jesus well later in Mark. This is not a verb used to describe Jesus' male disciples who sadly do not quite "get it" within Mark’s gospel. 

Deacons are meant to serve others and to preach the gospel.  Simon’s mother-in-law is seen as the first deacon of Jesus’ ministry.  It is a profound experience of intersectionality.  She was a dependent woman, totally at the mercy of her daughter’s husband and brother.  Since she had not birthed a son, she had only one option, to stay in her daughter’s home and to serve.  Being unable to do this was risky, not just because of her sickness but for her very future.  But, the change in why she served is remarkable.  She immediately began to serve out of love, reciprocating Jesus love of her, not out of duty or tradition.  She is seen as the first deacon of the Christian faith.  Jesus, by his acknowledgement of her as a human being, released her from the demeaning lowest position in the household to a place of equality.  That’s today’s lesson in a nutshell.  The message of Jesus restores us to who we are meant to be.  Deacon, professor, activist, who are you meant to be?

Because today is Super Bowl Sunday, I wanted to point out the NFL used to be a white only group from 1933.   In 1946 two black players were signed to the LA Rams and Cleveland Browns.  Jackie Robinson changed everything just a year later.  Now the NFL’s players are 70% black.  We all know the name of Colin Kaeperick who at 29 bravely demonstrated that being black in America continues to be fraught with injustices.  Most of the time he is seen as being ungrateful, as if we whites rescued him from the throes of certain poverty and eventual prison.  Kaeperick remains unemployed, even though he played in Super Bowl 47, five years ago.  That’s his punishment for speaking up.

This week we have James Conley in Des Moines who was racially profiled by an Old Navy employee who assumed he was trying to steal the coat he was wearing when he went to check out.  She said, “You want to pay for the coat you’re wearing as well?”  She made him take off his coat so she could scan the inside label.  Then, she insisted he pay for it since scanning the label doesn’t prove anything.  James asked her to view the video of him walking into the store to prove he was wearing it when he came in.  He had gotten the coat in December.  Once they reviewed the video, they let him go but not before they reprimanded him for videotaping the incident.  By Friday that video had over 100,000 hits but by Saturday, it was hard to find.  These are subtle or not so subtle forms of intersectionality, profiling, prejudicing against the “other”; those who are not like us.

I want to encourage us to use today’s Gospel, of an unnamed powerless woman to motivate us to see others like her in our midst and to begin speaking up, stepping out to say, “This must change.”  We can be the Christ when we raise others up, restoring them to become who they are meant to be, like Jesus did for the unnamed mother-in-law of Simon. 

 
January 28, 2018


Commentary on Mark 1:21-28
 

Pope Pius IX declares: 1866 “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery, and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given”.  This to be held definitively by the faithful.

Priests and Bishops were excommunicated for calling for the emancipation of slaves in the Americas. 
Books, critical of slavery, were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Holy Office. 
Those crying out against the institution of slavery were silenced, excommunicated and disgraced as heretics, schematics and unfaithful persons.
Finally, in 1965, [52 years ago] the Second Vatican Council declared that forced slavery was an infamy that dishonored the Creator and was a poison in society.

Now, I’m not reporting this to be critical of the Roman Catholic Church; on the contrary, I report it because there were voices opposed to slavery, voices that for moral reasons persisted in voicing God’s truth that slavery—of any kind—was not a part of God’s kin-dom.  It took 1900 years for those prophetic voices of God to be heard, but they were eventually heard. 

So, you might ask: “What does this have to do with today’s gospel?”  The answer is—everything.   Mark portrays Jesus as a prophet, possessed by the Holy Spirit, fresh from successfully confronting Satan in the wilderness, preaching the reign of God, and now in the company of at least four followers, it’s time for Jesus’ public ministry to gather momentum.  Mark wants us to know, here at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry -- that Jesus’ authority will be a contested authority. Jesus’ presence, words, and deeds threaten other forces that claim authority over people’s lives, and these other authorities have something to lose. 

The man with the unclean spirit finds Jesus, initiating the exchange. His opening question, asked by the spirit that possesses him, conveys a sense of “Why are you picking this fight?” or “Couldn’t you have just left things as they were between us?”  Jesus, by his sheer presence in this synagogue, has upset the order. He has crossed an established boundary. When Jesus strips the spirits of the ability to inhabit their human hosts, Jesus denies the unclean spirits’ capability to have an entrenched influence in the world, losing opportunities to win over people’s bodies and minds; they lose the authority they were thought to have. 

The crowd’s amazement about the exorcism resonates with its reaction to Jesus’ teaching at the beginning of this passage. That Jesus was permitted to teach in a synagogue is not remarkable in itself; what captures attention is the manner of his teaching.  Mark says Jesus teaches “as one having authority.”   Apparently Jesus’ teaching style is more declarative than deliberative. That is, he interprets the law and speaks on behalf of God without engaging in much dialogue about traditions, as the scribes were known to do.  The teaching and the exorcism are connected, then, since both result in amazement and acclamations about Jesus’ authority. 

Mark depicts Jesus as the one uniquely authorized to declare and institute the reign of God. Through Jesus, then, we glimpse characteristics of God’s Kin-dom. It is intrusive, breaking old boundaries that benefited another kind of rule. It is about liberating people from the powers that afflict them and keep all creation -- including human bodies and human societies -- from flourishing. It is about articulating God’s intentions for the world, defying or reconfiguring some traditions to do so, if need be. 

At minimum, this passage provokes us to stop assuming that “the way things are” must always equal “the way things must be.” The reign of God [the kin-dom] promises more, whether the “more” can be realized now or in a far-off future.  The Kin-dom of God is growing; it is moving toward God’s will, it is moving toward God’s perfection.  It continues to evolve because the kin-dom of God is not a two thousand year old stagnate event but a living, breathing progression forward to the final realization of God’s reign. 

Most of us do not think of ourselves as prophets, and yet, if we would go back to our baptism, we would realize that every one of us is called to be a prophet.  During the ceremony, we were anointed with holy chrism.  “I anoint you with the chrism of salvation,” the priest says, and goes on to say, “As Jesus was priest, prophet and king, so may you also live always as a member of his body.”  Through baptism we have been incorporated into the body of Christ—you are called to be what Jesus was: priest, prophet and ruler. 

And that role of prophecy is to speak on behalf of God and God's truth.  Every one of us has a calling to be prophetic, to be a prophet.  In the Gospel, Jesus shows us the role of prophecy in the church, which is, speaking on behalf of God in a time when there's conflict within the community or conflict outside the community. 

In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses’ impending death puts the Israelite community in jeopardy.   Who will speak to God for them?  Who will reveal God’s will?   God promises that Prophets will rise from among their own people to reveal the will of God.  These speakers of truth are home grown. They know the ways and the hearts of the people they speak to and connect with them; the only function of a prophet is to declare the word of God to God’s people.

In our second reading, Paul states that he has received both the office, and the grace by which he preaches, from God.   He has not only his authority to preach, but that authority obliges Paul to preach; and if he did not, it should endanger his salvation.  We, therefore, as prophets must speak God’s truth—we are obliged to do so or we endanger our very salvation.  How can we do what Jesus asks—bring God’s love to bear on every situation in our lives.  Faith is not just about longing for and acknowledging past manifestations of Jesus’ greatness and the gospel’s power; it’s also about discovering what deserves our amazement in our current lives.

 The issues that called forth the prophetic messages of the Old Testament are very contemporary issues. There are still David’s around, whom, even though they may be good leaders and people of God at times, sometimes use their power in horribly destructive ways to achieve their own ambitious or selfish ends.  There are still Herods caught between their own delusions of grandeur and even more powerful political forces, who are willing to sacrifice whomever is necessary to secure their own comfort and survival. There are still Pharisees who are so sure that their way is God's way that they are easily willing to crucify anyone who poses a threat to the status quo of their version of the truth.

 And so, I think, there needs to be people today, Christians today, who will dare to stand and speak the truth.  A truly prophetic voice is one who has the courage, perhaps even in some sense the calling of God, to look around at the community of faith in its status quo and say, "Not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kin-dom of heaven." A prophetic voice is one who calls God's people to return to their calling as a people of God.  A prophetic voice is one that will not settle for the status quo, not for the sake of stability, or security, or comfort, or even for the sake of conserving traditions. A truly prophetic voice is a voice that calls for change, even if that change is a return to a vital tradition long obscured by false piety and self-righteousness.

 A prophetic voice will not gloss over injustice or oppression, will not be silent in the face of bigotry or prejudice or false pride, and will not compromise faithfulness for practical ends no matter how noble those ends may be in themselves.

The prophetic voice is empowered by a vision of how things could be, a future in which the people and their leaders will live out their calling to be the people of God as a channel of blessing to the world.  The prophets had the courage to call into question any preoccupation with the status quo on any level that interfered with that future. As a result, they were often in trouble with those who stood to lose the most if the status quo were changed and that "could be" future became a reality.

It is our duty to be modern prophets, speaking God’s truth through our words and our actions.  God’s truth, then and now, centers on inclusion in the kin-dom of God.  We must raise our prophetic voices for an inclusive Church and the inclusive reign of god.

Women

Around the world [ according to an Australian study] priests say that domestic violence is "God's will" and that she must endure it because she'd promised in her marriage vows that she would, for better or worse.  And in too many cases priests have told women that abuse is their "cross to bear". 
The question as to why women cannot become priests is yet another challenge faced by the Catholic Church.
Those prophets who speak out through word and deed are excommunicated.
The Roman Catholic Church states they have no authority to ordain women and reason that only men can become priests due to the 12 men that Christ chose to serve as his apostles. [to be definitively held by all the faithful]

Social Justice Issues

poverty, housing, immigration, human rights, etc.

LGBTQ/Same Sex Marriage

Homosexual orientation is itself “objectively disordered” and homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” 

Speak up; speak out, even though your prophetic voice gets you in trouble with the authorities of the status quo who have something to lose.  Speak God’s truth, and eventually, like the abolishment of slavery, God’s truth will be known and followed.  When the status quo asks: “Why are you picking this fight?” or “Couldn’t you have just left things as they were between us?” Be a prophet in word and deed, speak God’s truth and let us [together] build the kin-dom of God.

​January 21, 2018

FIRST READING  A Reading from the Book of Jonah, A Satire on Prophecy

3:1-10

The Word of God came to Jonah again: “Get up and go into the great

city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the words that I give you.”  So, this

time, Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of God. 

Now, Nineveh was an enormously large city. It took three days to walk

across it.  Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city,

proclaiming, “Only forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

And the people of Nineveh believed God.  They declared a fast and

dressed in sackcloth, everyone from the greatest to the least.

The news reached the ruler of Nineveh who rose from the throne, laid

aside the royal robes, dressed in sackcloth and sat in ashes.  Then, it was

proclaimed throughout the nation of Babylon: “No human being or

beast, cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything.  They shall neither eat nor

drink.  Human beings and beasts shall be covered in sackcloth and ashes

and call out loudly to God.  Everyone shall turn from their evil ways and

the violence at hand.  Who knows?  God may repent and forgive,

withholding wrath, so that we will not perish.”

God saw by their actions that they had turned from their evil ways, and

God repented from the destruction God had promised to bring upon them.  God did not carry it out.

The Word of an Ancient Story Teller.

Thanks be to God

 

SECOND READING

A Reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 7:17-20, 36

The only rule is that everyone, each one of us, should live as we

were when God called us, as we were when we came to believe. I

give this rule in all the churches. If someone is called after he was

circumcised, he should not try to undo his circumcision.

If an uncircumcised person is called, he should not be circumcised.

Circumcision means nothing! Uncircumcision means nothing! 

What matters is keeping God's commandments.

Everyone should remain in the state in which we were when we

were called.

...

However, if anyone has strong passions toward their beloved, marry as

you wish.  It is no sin. Let lovers marry.

The Word of the Apostle Paul.

Thanks be to God.

 

GOSPEL

A Reading from the Good News attributed to Mark 1:14-20; 2:13-17

Glory to you, O God.

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee.  There he

proclaimed the good news from God saying, “The time is fulfilled, and

the reign of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus was walking along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his

brother Andrew on the shore casting a net into the sea–for they were

fishers.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you

fishers of people.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Going a little farther, he saw James, son of Zebedee, and his brother

John, who were in their boat mending nets.  Immediately, he called

them.  And leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired

workers, they followed Jesus.

...

Another day, Jesus saw Levi,

son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs

post and said to Levi, “Follow me.”

Levi got up and followed Jesus.  While he was at table in his house,

many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples.

There were many who followed him.  Some scribes, who were Pharisees,

saw Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus overheard their question and said to them,

“Those who are well don't need a physician,

but the sick do. I didn't come to call the righteous, but sinners.

The Gospel of Our God.

Praise to you, Jesus the Christ 

 

Sermon:

Last week, I had a disturbing experience.  Call it road rage but I beeped at a driver who was trying to cut in front of me.  When she didn’t slow down, I stopped to let her go by.  In response, she slammed on her brakes, put the car in park and got out to blast me, calling me a “F--White B---”   She was a black woman.  I was shocked, then I got angry.  She put her hands on her hip in defiance.  I was not going to get out of my car.  Anna was with me and I realized that would only lead to escalating emotions.  Then, she said, “You’re just going to have to wait.”  She got back in her car and sat there, blocking me and the line that was forming behind me.  So, I pointed to my wrist and said, “I’ve got all the time in the world.”  Then I laughed at her.  It was all so ridiculous.  Finally, she moved a few feet, then stopped again.  She was baiting me to pass her.  I chose to stay behind her.  We played this game for at least two to three blocks.  Finally, we came to a stop sign and she went straight.  I turned right.  The incident bothered me for the rest of the day.   Was it because I was white that she became so enraged?  Or would she have done this to anyone?  What should I have done?  Now, looking back on it, I wish I would’ve been more kind, not shown the reaction that I did—certainly not laugh at her.   Today’s readings remind me how human we all are—even when we don’t want to be.

In our first reading, we have Jonah, brave Jonah.  He was a prophet who had come to Nineva to speak the truth.  When do any of us want to hear from a prophet?  Rarely, if ever.  A prophet comes to challenge us, to make us change our ways.  None of us want to hear that but most of us need to.

 For some reason the people of Nineveh in our first reading did listen.  Perhaps they saw Jonah come out of the whale’s mouth and thought that showed divine preference.  Maybe they had heard the stories of how he lived in the belly of a whale for 3 days and 3 nights.  Nothing symbolic about that now is there?  Perhaps it was Jonah’s manner and passion.  Being such a large city, it would take guts and stamina to deliver a message of “doom and gloom,” yelling to the masses for at least three days to walk across the whole city.  For whatever reason, even the King took notice.  He took off his robes and sat in ashes, a very astonishing act of humility for a king.  Somehow, this king heard Jonah and was moved to act; he must’ve believed Jonah; he believed God had power over him.

God did relent because of the people’s actions.  God saw that they had changed their ways.  There was no need for the threatened punishment.  I wonder what would happen if Jonah showed up today.  I cannot imagine many of us responding, especially not our King in Washington who doesn’t listen to anyone but himself.  Some of us are just as stubborn, like me with the woman yelling at me. 

In our second reading, we have Paul reminding us of what’s important—not circumcision but living out the commandments:  thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt honor thy parents.  Basic rules for how we are to treat one another.   Thou shalt not ridicule another, might be added.

Then in our gospel, we have Jesus speaking as a prophet, much like Jonah did so long before him.  Jesus steps into John’s ministry and begins choosing disciples, those who will follow him and help him to spread his message of love.  Of course, the Pharisees question him—he was taking all the attention away from them.  Afterall, they were the religious leaders of the time.  How dare Jesus a simple carpenter, suddenly show up and try to do ministry separate from the established church.  Who did he think he was?  And then he eats with sinners.  Everyone knew that would make him unclean!  But Jesus tells these Pharisees that he is here to help sinners, those who most need his help.  Jesus wants to remind the Pharisees that they too are sinners.   We are all sinners.  But that would’ve been too much of a message for the church leaders to hear.  Sometimes it’s too much for us as well.

This week we have our own Pope Francis disappointing many of us.  We believed he was different.  That he has a heart of compassion.  But for whatever reason, there’s a blindspot when it comes to one bishop, Juan Barros.  The pope appointed him Bishop of Osorno, Chile in 2015.   A survivor of sex abuse, Mr. Cruz said that Barros was present when another priest, Fernando Karadima, then the bishop’s mentor, kissed and groped him and another boy.  The people of Chile were outraged! Now in a visit to Chile, the pope poured gas on the fire, first seeming to honor victims of sexual abuse, then later affirming Barros as someone who was innocent, insisting on “proof.”  Mr. Cruz said, “As if I could have taken a selfie or photo while Karadima abused me and others with Juan Barros standing next to him watching everything," he tweeted. “Nothing has changed, and his (the pope’s) plea for forgiveness is empty."

Why did the Pope create a commission in 2014 to study the problems of clerical sexual abuse and then not follow any of its recommendations?  Two members who were survivors resigned from the commission.  This group’s term officially ended just weeks ago in 2017.

All of us are sinners.  We have our own blindspots, our loyalties, which is why we need the message of Jesus so much.  We live in a world that pulls us backwards, back into pettiness, back into anger and the sense of self-righteousness.  How often I have responded in anger when I have wanted to respond in kindness or humility.  Only later do I realize my failings.

Over and over, Jesus calls us to soften, to listen and to not feel threatened by the voices of the other side.  Perhaps it’s when everyone feels heard that progress can be made.  Friday night, congress shut down the government because no one felt heard.  Last week, white supremacist put out flyers in Iowa City.  We as white citizens need to hear what that’s about.  There’s a meeting at Old Brick on Monday night at 6:30pm to discuss this. 

We don’t need to be swallowed by a whale to become prophets.  We need only be as Christ—to listen and then act.  Women took to the streets on Saturday to voice their outrage one year after our president was elected.  The need to speak out has not diminished nor should our fervor.  Yes, we are sinners AND we can do much good.  May we start afresh to determine how we will act, how we will be prophets in our own time and place.  Now is the time to speak our truth and to become people of change.

January 14, 2018

Invitation to open mic discussions. 

Readings:

FIRST READING

A Reading from the First Book of Samuel 3:1-10, 19 

Hannah’s boy, Samuel, was ministering to the Holy One under Eli. The word of God was rare in those days. Visions were not widespread. One night, Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the House of God, where the ark of God was. Then God called, “Samuel! Samuel!” who responded, “Here I am!” Samuel ran to Eli, and said, “You called me? Here I am.” But Eli said, “I did not call you. Go back to bed.” So, Samuel went and lay down. God called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “You called me. Here I am.” But Eli said, “I did not call, my child. Go back to bed.” Now Samuel did not yet know God, and the word of God had not yet been revealed to him. God called Samuel again, a third time. He got up and went to Eli, and said, “You called me. Here I am.” Then Eli perceived that God was calling Samuel. Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down. If God calls you, say, ‘Speak, Holy One. Your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place. Then God came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.” As Samuel grew up, God was with him and let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. The Word of an Israelite Court Historian. Thanks be to God.

PSALM Psalm 40:1-3, 6-8, 9-10 

The Psalm response is: Your heart’s desire is our delight. R: Your heart’s desire is our delight. I waited patiently for God who turned to me and heard my cry. God put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise. More and more people are seeing this; they enter the mystery with faith. R: Your heart’s desire is our delight. Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but You have given me an open ear. I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. I delight to do Your heart's desire. Your law is within my heart.” R: Your heart’s desire is our delight. I have preached You to the whole assembly. I have not restrained my lips, as You know. I do not keep the news of Your ways a secret. I do not keep it to myself. I speak of Your faithfulness and Your love in action, holding nothing back. R: Your heart’s desire is our delight.
SECOND READING The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 6:12-13a, 14-15a,17,19,20b

“All things are lawful for me,” you say - but not all things are beneficial. “I have the right to do anything with my freedom,” you say - but I will not be dominated by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”; but both food and the stomach belong to God, and they will perish. The God who raised up Jesus the Christ, will raise up us too, by the same power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of the Christ? … Anyone united with the Christ in body, becomes one in spirit with the Christ. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. Glorify God in your body. The Word of the Apostle Paul. Thanks be to God.

GOSPEL A Reading from the Gospel attributed to John 1:35-49 

glory to you, O God. 

John the Baptizer was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They replied, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” Jesus said to them, “Come and see!” They went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Anointed or the Christ). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which translated means Peter). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one about whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote: “Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is not deceit.” Nathanael asked, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are one born of God! You are the Servant Leader of Israel!” The Gospel of Our God. Praise to you, Jesus the Christ.


Epiphany, January 7, 2018 

FIRST READING A Reading from Sirach, of the Wisdom Literature  24:1-4, 12-20

 Wisdom’s praises come from her own mouth;  She tells of her glory in the midst of her people; In the assembly of the Cosmic Chorus, she opens her mouth; in the presence of the heavenly hosts, she sings her glory: “I came forth from the mouth of the God beyond the galaxies and I came to earth, covering earth like mist. My tent was in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.

 I took root in a people honored by God, in God’s own portion and heritage. I have grown tall as a cedar in Lebanon, as a cypress on Mount Hermon.
I am raised aloft, as a palm in En-Gedi,  as the rose bushes of Jericho.
I have grown tall as a fair olive tree in the field, and as a plane tree by the water.
I have yielded a perfume like cinnamon and camel’s thorn. I spread my fragrance like choice myrrh, like sweet spices and the smoke of frankincense in the tent. I have spread my branches like terebinth, and my branches are glorious.
Like the vine, I bud forth delights, and my blossoms bear the fruit of glory and richness.
Come to me, all you who desire me, and eat your fill of my fruit.
For the memory of me is sweeter than honey, and Wisdom, sweeter than the honeycomb. 

The Wisdom of Our God.
           Thanks be to God.              

SECOND READING A Reading from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians 1:18-25   

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who seek winning-power, but to us who are being made whole, the cross is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the “rich and powerful”?  For since in the Wisdom of God, the world did not know God through “wisdom”, God was pleased through the foolishness of our proclamation to lead those who trust in it into the fullness of life.  

Judeans demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Judeans and absurd to Gentiles.  But to those who are the called, both Judeans and Greeks: Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 

The Word of the Apostle Paul. Thanks be to God. 

 GOSPEL:  A Reading from the Good News attributed to Matthew 2:1-12  

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the infant who has been born Ruler of the Judeans?  We observed the child’s star at its rising, and have come to pay homage.”  When Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: 

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

Are by no means least among the rulers of Judah,

For from you shall come a ruler

Who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 

Then Herod summoned the Magi to see him secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  The he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when found, bring me word that I too may go and pay homage.”    

After their audience with Herod, the Magi set out.  And behold, the star they had seen at its rising preceded them until it stopped above the place where the child was.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star!  Entering the house, they saw the child and its mother Mary.  Prostrating themselves, they paid homage.  Then, they opened their treasures and offered the baby gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by an alternate route.

The Good News of Our God.

Praise to you, Jesus the Christ.
 

SERMON:  Today we celebrate Epiphany—a surprise or better, a manifestation of God’s presence in our world.  A here and now celebration of God with us.  Whether there were two or three wise men or whether these visitors were astrologers or kings, one thing we know for sure is that this story told today is one that causes us to rejoice.  An epiphany is a sudden or striking realization.  It should be something that changes us.  Once we have that “ahah”—we might then refer to it again and again as to how we think differently.

Certainly, there are always degrees of such experiences.  After our trip to Ohio, I had an epiphany that we should never do that again.  That’s a low manifestation, more obvious that striking.  One that uses logic and emotion.  Why did we ever think this was a good idea?  You may have your own variation.  But today’s Epiphany is bigger, much bigger.

For Christmas, Dave got me the book, “God—a Human History” by Reza Aslan, the same author who wrote Zealot, a very controversial book about Jesus. “God” was a fascinating read that made me think about Epiphany and how we got to this celebration.  For many years, monotheism, the belief in one God was not accepted.  People preferred praying to many gods—each for a differing need.  This polytheism enabled individuals to pick and choose their favorite god and to emphasize their concerns accordingly.  Several times an attempt was made to force mono-idolatory on people and this back-fired.  The only way it finally worked was to imbue God with an all-inclusive nature.  Aslan writes, “Think of God as a light that passes through a prism, refracting into countless colors.  The individual colors seem different from each other but in reality they are the same; they have the same essence.”  So too does God.  God is creator of all, God seeks to be in relation with us, we believe.  Our journey is towards deeper and deeper relationship with God, enabling us to learn how to be more authentic, more whole.  These beliefs are the result of years of tradition and liturgy and our own becoming as a person and as a society.

Aslan himself believes in God but says that belief is a choice, not something that can be proven.  Instead, his focus is on how our idea of God seems to be innate, something we have known instinctively from birth.  Studies have been done with children and they indicate an understanding that we have two parts to us:  body and soul.  This is called “substance dualism.”

The best study on this was done by Jesse Bering and David Bjorklund. Children were told the story of a mouse and an alligator.  The alligator is chasing the mouse and eventually eats it.  The mouse is dead.  Then the children are asked things like, “Will the mouse grow up to be a big mouse?  Does his brain still work?”  Children typically answer “no” to these questions.  But when asked, “Does the mouse still like cheese?  Does he still love his mother?  Does he know that he’s dead?” the children will typically say “yes.”  They believe that even though the mouse is not alive any more, its mental life persists.  They have a sense of something more. 

Aslan writes:  “…we enter the world with an innate sense—untaught, unforced, unprompted—that we are more than just our physical bodies….When it comes to belief in the soul, we are, to put it simply, born believers.”  From this, Aslan proposes that we can neither prove nor disprove that Creation was an act of God versus an accident of matter and energy.  Were we created without cause, value or purpose or is there something that underlies the universe and binds us all together?

This question, this search may have been what led the three astrologers to follow the star, that star, that led them to a child to whom they paid homage.  What did they hope to gain?  They certainly didn’t need anything from a mere child and his parents.   And yet, we have a sense that they leave with perhaps a peace of mind never before found in any of their other discoveries.  God born among us—how wild and wonderful.  Is that what they were seeking, wisdom that defies logic?  A God who becomes as we are in order to help release us from such limitations?  A God who experiences suffering and pain and joy is a God we can believe is our partner, our companion on the journey.

In our first reading we hear from Wisdom herself.  She is setting the stage for what is to come.  Isaiah is typically the first reading for Epiphany but I’m guessing that our lectionary creators believed that we needed to hear from a woman’s voice. Wisdom is always viewed as female, as Sophia, which is why we do our sign of the cross, invoking Sophia Wisdom instead of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost.  Wisdom poetically tells us of her glory, her perfume and her worth that are beyond reproach.  And, any of us who want her are bidden to come and eat of her fruit.  It is a provocative invitation.

Then, in our second reading, Paul tells us that Wisdom isn’t always what we think she is.  Power?  Not so important.  Richness?  Not where it’s at.  Those who are seen as foolish are really the wise ones.  It’s all so paradoxical.  This is setting the stage for the biggest riddle of all:  God born of a woman in the form of a baby boy.  How can this be?  For thousands and thousands of years, God has been viewed as something outside of us in the form of the sun or moon, or in an animal form—a lion or an elephant.  Something strong and big and powerful.  The earliest representations of God as human came in the form of woman, typically a very fertile woman with large breasts.  Only woman had the power to create life so she was worshiped and adored.  Imagine that—those were the good old days.  More recently, we have symbolized God as male but always with one or more superpowers:  all knowing, all powerful, able to be present everywhere!  Paul writes, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  But now here at Epiphany he is born as a tiny human being.  Why would this be? 

From today’s gospel story we come to the main event:  three total strangers go off on a quest.  On their way they stop to visit a King, to alert him to their quest.  It’s that important!  King Herod is very intrigued but only in relation to himself and the possible threat this child might be to his power.  His intention was murderous.  We are grateful that dreams held such significance at that time!  The strangers do not return to King Herod thanks to a dream, but sneak home on another route.  Still Herod’s paranoia rages and leads him to murder about 20 innocent male babies (based on population studies of Bethlehem at that time).  Remember, Herod ordered all male children under two to be killed.  Thus, Jesus may have been anywhere from a few months old to two years old at the time of the Magi’s visit. 

This past week, I got to meet my new niece, Rayven Elise.  She is one month old today and she is a beauty.  I held her for long periods of time because there is something so healing about a new baby.  When awake, she would stare into my eyes forever.  She has dark brown eyes where you can’t see her pupils so she has a sense of the eternal about her.  Staring into those eyes of hers made me smile, every single time.  And it made me feel so humbled to be holding such newness, such possibility, such purity of life. 

Is that what the wise men saw?  Perhaps they became wise after seeing the child Jesus.  Did he evoke a sense of eternity, even before he could speak?  Maybe he made these learned men feel more calm, less certain and needing to be less certain of things.  We will never know.  Some things remain a mystery, as they should.  One of the deepest mysteries is that we are unique creatures who can think and wonder and seek to better understand.  We know that there is more to us than meets the eye.  We choose to believe that we are part of God and God is part of us.  Together we hold infinite possibilities.  May God bless us as we begin a new year, as we hope for more calm, less need for certainty and more delight in the mystery of life itself.  Happy Epiphany.  Let us say it again and again, Happy Epiphany!  Amen. 

Epiphany 2018

Epiphany—a time of discovery and surprise.  The kind of surprise that empowers us—a new meaning that causes us to pause and reflect.  Why do we love this holiday?  What is it that draws us in?  Is it the magi—so closely tied to magic?  Is it the stars and their prediction of a child King?  Is it the travelers who firmly believed that they would find THIS child, the One who was to bring true peace?  There is much in this story that intrigues us and that calls us to ponder.  Above all, it is a story of a quest, discovery and deeper meaning—which is all our stories too.  We are born, we seek meaning and purpose and we journey to the unknown, questioning, hoping, trusting to make meaning out of life’s mysteries.  No wonder we love this celebration, not to mention the hats, the cake, the frankincense.

I can remember when my first son was born.  Before that, I had some idea of what love was about, but after his birth, I knew love in a very different way.  I felt a deep, fierce protectiveness of him—that no harm touch him.  He was that precious.  That’s an aha, an epiphany that comes from loving a child.  Love itself is a mystery beyond words.  We cannot fully name why we love so deeply, why we care so much.  That’s the power and the beauty of love.  It’s the thread throughout this story of Epiphany.

In Isaiah, we can’t help but get excited.  You hear the prophet’s triumphant pronouncement:  darkness is conquered, all people are coming together, God is here and all is well.  We may need to read this over and over in the next four years.  As much as I fear that darkness is settling in, let us take hope in Isaiah’s words.  One epiphany I’ve had about this whole Trump election is that now it is in the hands of the people to make change and that may be a very good thing.  My son Jon has been working with students from Harvard and Yale and they got 4,000 signatures from health care students that were delivered to Congress last week saying that if the ACA is repealed, there are six issues that must be addressed.  How good is that?  Our youth are rallying.

Let’s look at the characters involved in today’s gospel:  the Magi, Mary and Joseph and of course the child Jesus.  The Magi are intelligent men, dignitaries, foreigners who all agree on a theory, an interpretation of the stars and what they mean.  They believe so much that they are willing to plan and carry out a long journey, trekking to a faraway place to find a child who is to be great. And the purpose of this quest?  To pay homage, to affirm a new truth. Some say it took them two weeks, others say two years.  Because so much of this story has been pieced together, we don’t really know, which adds to its allure, its intrigue.  What we find riveting is that these magi represent the truth that the love of God is for all nations—the potential for unity for us all.  All nations coming together to pay homage to the One, a God whose greatest purpose is that all be One.  That’s what Paul reminds the Ephesians—that the Gentiles are heirs to God’s kin-dom.  We all are heirs.

 Mary is key to this story--how she miraculously delivered her child Jesus in a cave, by herself with no midwife or doctor at her side, with only her husband to help.  No medical care, maybe no clean water either.  Mary would’ve been careful to nourish her newborn son with her own breastmilk, keeping him warm and clean.  Who brought her the water and clean sheets?  Joseph must’ve done his part to help.  Together they were good partners because they had to be; they enabled Jesus to survive such unpleasant and unclean beginnings.  Because of their love and belief in God, they trusted that this child was the One.  Some of us parents hold that belief of each and every one of our  children—they are special.  They are going to do great things.  Mary is our model of how to nurture, how to believe in the not-yet. 

And then there’s Jesus, a tiny, vulnerable infant, no different from all the innocent baby boys who would be murdered because of Herod’s fear.  What made him unique?  At that time, before he could speak, it was the belief, the faith of his parents.  They made sure he would survive and grow to become who he was meant to be.  When the magi arrived with all their entourage, Mary must’ve smiled and felt proud that what she believed was being acknowledged by others, by men of great honor and rank in their countries.  She allowed them to pay homage, trusting that they would tell others of his birth—that one day the whole world would know and believe in her son, Jesus the Christ. 

Little did they all know that they would be remembered thousands of years later as we do our own searching for God.  What are the signs we trust?  Is it the stars, the news, the weather?  What helps us to be hopeful amidst difficult times.   That’s what Epiphany is all about.  Helping us to renew our hope that God is with us, here and now.  We celebrate Epiphany because it is a story that touches deep within us and helps us to remain hopeful.  It empowers us to trust.  Finally, it insists that we, like Mary, Joseph and the Magi, devote our lives to a very simple belief, that Jesus is the One, the One teacher who can bring us deeper meaning and life eternal.

So I ask us these questions to ponder:  What signs do we follow?  How do we commit to a journey towards the Divine?  What are the essentials to our journey?  What gift will you bring for Christ?