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Archived Readings and Reflections
Homily: First Week of Advent
November 27, 2016
Menards started tearing down their patio furniture display and setting up their Christmas displays the week after the fourth of July. Lowes followed on August first. Hy-Vee started advertising for Christmas in late September, and most retail stores began the Christmas season before Halloween. In America we are ready for Christmas. Sales this year are expected to top 4 trillion dollars for the season. In America, we love Christmas!
We decorate our homes with Christmas lights—two of my neighbors had theirs up in October—and several keep them up all year long, turning them on now and again. Black Friday sales start in early August and some last year-round. We hang out the greenery, put up the wreaths and dig out the Christmas music for the coming of Santa and the coming of Jesus. We prepare for Christmas, yet only 47% of Americans attend church services on Christmas day.
Today is the first day of Advent—the anticipation of the Christ-child’s birth in Bethlehem. Christ is coming—God is coming as the savior of the world. We all know the scene—refugees looking for a place to stay, no room at the inn, birth in a manger, and the celebration in both heaven and earth at God’s first coming. We are ready; we are prepared; we put our best forward, roll out the red carpet, clean the house—in other words we are expecting an honored guest into our lives and into our world. Waiting is the hard part. Having done all the preparation, we’re primed; we’re pumped to let the coming begin. It’s hard to wait, we’re antsy like little children—filled with anticipation, but it is hard when the anticipated moment is left unspecified.
In our observance of Advent, for example, when we focus on the birth of Jesus, we know from the start that the climax will come on December 25th. Between now and then, we’ll read the prophecies of the Old Testament and light a new candle each Sunday; then we’ll gather on Christmas Eve to hear the Christmas story and sing the carols; then we’ll get up on Christmas morning and open our gifts. It’s all so predictable.
But there are two comings of Christ—the first has happened; the second is yet to come. The second coming is not talked about much, and it isn’t known when it will occur, but Jesus will return to raise the dead and usher in a new world. Jesus could come at any time; he could arrive right now—this very moment or it could be millennials before the arrival. There is simply no telling when. As Jesus told his disciples: “But no one knows of that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
That makes the waiting doubly hard, and it can lead us to ask, “Is he coming, or not?” The answer lies in the gospel reading for this morning: “Yes, he’s coming … at a moment when you least expect him.” So, look for the sign of Noah. That’s your cue to knowing that the end is near and that our honored guest is at the door.
What, exactly, is the sign of Noah? In the Old Testament, the story of Noah and the great flood was brought on by the sinfulness of the world. Genesis 6:5 says,
“Yahweh saw that the wickedness of people was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
The picture that comes to mind is that of wholesale immorality, lewdness, debauchery, hedonism and sinfulness to the max. So, you might think that the sign of Noah has to do with the decadence of the world around us and its preoccupation with evil and violence and every form of bad behavior – that if the world is truly going to hell in a hand basket, it’d be a sure sign that the Second Coming is near.
But no, that’s not what Jesus said. He said: “For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ship…” (Matthew 24:38)
As far as Jesus is concerned, it’s not the people’s sinfulness that’s the problem, it’s their complacency, their relative ease and comfort. Jesus compares the normalcy of their daily lives with the normalcy that will prevail before the Second Coming. Eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage! Who can fault that! The fault is not that people are doing these things, but that they are so caught up in the routine of daily living that they take no thought for their spiritual lives. Their problem is not ‘gross sin’ but ‘indifference’ – ‘nonchalance about God.'
No, it’s not the vile nature of the world in which we live that’s the problem, it’s our indifference. We live as if everything is A-OK, when, in reality, the rug can be pulled out from underneath us without a moment’s notice. We live on thin ice. Why don’t we live as if God were the sole source of our strength and hope for the future?
This is what Noah did. Scripture says, “Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9) He dared to live out of synch with the world around him in order to live in harmony with the Spirit of the living God. You know the story: While the rest of the world went on living as if they were invulnerable, Noah listened to God and obeyed God’s Word. Noah did something while the rest of the world payed no attention to God’s word, living their lives with indifference to others and ignoring their own spiritual lives.
Years ago, I knew a family that lived the American dream. The father was a successful business person—a hardworking, community minded individual. The mother was a full-time mom, PTA president, community volunteer and major cheer-leader for their boys. One of their sons was in my class and the other was two years behind me in my little brother’s class. These boys were popular, clean-cut, all-American, polite and respectful children. They attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the same as my family.
Here’s what happened: The younger son had a Volkswagen Bug that he loved to race around town in. He had a habit of playing what he called “car-dodge” while driving on highway 218 through town. He would place his body from the waste up through the window, driving down the road. He’d get dangerously close to oncoming cars and give them a big grin through their windshield as they passed by. Dumb and stupid and dangerous, right!
One evening the unthinkable happened: either his car lurched to the left or the oncoming semi did. When the Volkswagen came to a stop, his headless body lay in the ditch.
When news reached the family, they turned to the church, and the church members did all they could to offer comfort and reassurance and hope; but it wasn’t enough. Living the American dream wasn’t enough when their world was shattered. Without the strength of an inner, seasoned faith, they were hopelessly ill-prepared to face such a loss. Their life of normalcy had been destroyed in one silly, fleeting moment. They became emotionally distraught, angry and bitter – mad at God and the world.
Today’s gospel warning and the word to the wise is this: Be prepared through your faith in Christ; get your priorities straight now, while you can. Cultivate your relationship to the best of your ability with Jesus Christ; be like an athlete in training, ready to go into the game on a moment’s notice when the coach calls your number.
This is the Good News I hope you’ll take home with you this afternoon and carry with you throughout the season of Advent: Be active in your faith; be grounded in the good news of God; be out of synch with the world; be on good “speaking” terms with God; anticipate Jesus’ second coming like we anticipate Christmas. Instead of saying, “Is he coming, or not?” Instead of asking, “When will Jesus return?” Say, “Thank God! He is already here!”
Nov. 13, 2016, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Now What: Post Election Grief
First Reading: Malachi 4:1-2
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
Second Reading: Thessalonians 3:7-12
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Gospel Reading: Luke 21:5-19
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.13This will give you an opportunity to testify.
So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Somehow it has happened. The sky has fallen. Hell has frozen over. Pigs now fly. Whatever the analogy, it fits. Trump is going to be our president and I’m still in shock as to how this happened. It has been very challenging to find the silver lining with this outcome. Many analysts have said it’s because people want change. Well, thing are certainly going to change now. I’m not so sure this is the change anyone really expects or wants. Time will tell but having Trump as president is a frightening reality to many of us.
Wednesday morning, we chaplains gathered in our office and broke bread. Okay, it was bagels, but it helped to be with like-minded people to share the shock and the sadness. One brought the music for “There is a Balm in Gilead,” an African American spiritual that says, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.” These words help, just as they helped the slaves who sang them so many years ago. Now we too feel the desperation and the need for words that soothe, alleviate and calm.
There are so many things to grieve, causes that now may be threatened as never before: climate change, healthcare, diversity, same sex marriage. We hear our brothers and sisters who were just beginning to feel safe now feel anxious and worried for their safety. On the news Thursday night, we witnessed a high school cafeteria in Detroit where chants of “white power” and “build that wall” caused Latino kids to cry.
I’ve been saying that the phrase, “Make America great again” translates into “Make America Hate again.” It’s going back to the “good ole days” when whites were truly in power and no one else really mattered. That’s the old message that young kids get and are now promoting. So yes, we have reason to grieve for all that is lost by this election. And I am not one to encourage anyone to move beyond their grief until they are ready and able.
Our readings are very apocalyptic—which seems appropriate. The world that we hoped was moving forward has suddenly taken a giant step backwards. Malachi speaks about “the day is coming when the bad will be like stubble but the good will endure.” It also says that the “sun of righteousness shall rise” for those who believe. These are words of hope. Jesus talks about his coming and that those of us who believe will be persecuted but this will give us an opportunity to testify. We certainly saw that with our City High youth on Friday night. As a parent, I’m not so sure blocking I-80 is the safest way to testify but it certainly makes a statement.
We must be very wise and respectful with how we voice our protest. I was very saddened to see video of a group of black men pulling a white man who voted for Trump from his car and beat him up while others cheered them on. That shows just how deep the divide is and how high emotions are, especially fear. As you know, anger is fear disguised. There is much to be fearful about and if one’s only hope is “going it alone” without faith, then anger is the logical next step.
But we are a people of faith. We believe that death is not the end so in our grief we must seek out the sacred. Where are the little pieces of light, as Joyce Rupp would say? How do we come full circle through the Spirit’s guidance? It is the sacred that is our balm and our hope. Let us turn to God and cry out, Help us, O God.
In Thessalonians, Paul is encouraging new Christians to work hard, to not be idle and the very next line (which is left out) is, Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. None of us can grow tired of standing up for the poor and marginalized—be it for the Dakota Access Pipeline, Black Lives Matter, the Free Clinic or IC Compassion, we will continue to use our energy and our faith to work towards a more loving world. Perhaps this grief will be our catalyst for even greater efforts. Despite our discouragement, we must eventually gather strength to continue the effort—to not become weary.
And in our gospel, Jesus is tells us, “Beware, do not be led astray. Nation will rise against Nation.” That’s all our fears; that war is not far off with such a leader as Trump. We may be persecuted and betrayed, but in the end, not a hair of our heads will be harmed—seems like an oxymoron but of course, Jesus is speaking about our spiritual selves. In the end, when we remain true to the cause for peace, for inclusion, that all may be one-we believe that we will be “saved.” That is our hope.
This is our liturgy for Thanksgiving but I couldn’t begin with that—I had to speak first about our collective pain. In eleven days we will hope to give thanks. Let us allow the sacred to heal our hearts so that we can stand back and see our blessings. Now it is all the more important that we use those blessings in ways we might not have imagined before. So, grieve all you need to grieve, then look to the sacred for your balm, and do not grow weary in doing what is right. Above all, know that we are blessed by a God who will be with us no matter what. Amen.
What has your response been to this election? How do our blessings help us in our grief?
Perhaps the World Ends Here
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BY JOY HARJO
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
"Perhaps the World Ends Here" from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.wwnorton.com.
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time October 23, 2016
Luke 18: 9-14
Knowing that Pharisees are regularly cast in the gospels as Jesus' opposition, we all too easily judge the Pharisee to be a self-righteous hypocrite and assume that the moral of this story is to be humble. The difficulty with such an interpretive tack, however, is that we might as well end up praying, "Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self-righteous, or even like that Pharisee. I come to church, I give to charity, and I have learned that I should always be humble."
In order to avoid the kind of self-congratulatory reading of the parable, it may help to note that, in fact, everything the Pharisee says is true. He has set himself apart from others by his faithful adherence to the law. He is, by the standards both Luke and Jesus seem to employ, righteous. It isn't that the Pharisee is speaking falsely, but rather that the Pharisee misses the true nature of his blessing. As Luke states in his introductory sentence, he has trusted in himself. His prayer of gratitude may be spoken to God, but it is really about himself. He credits his righteousness entirely in his own actions and being.
The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he possesses no means by which to claim righteousness. He has done nothing of merit; indeed, he has done much to offend the law of Israel. For this reason he stands back, hardly daring to approach the Temple, and throws himself on the mercy of the Lord.
Here is the essential contrast. One makes a claim to righteousness based on his own accomplishments, while the other relies entirely upon the Lord's benevolence. Rather than be grateful for his blessings, the Pharisee appears smug to the point of despising others. In his mind there are two kinds of people: the righteous and the immoral, and he is grateful that he has placed himself among the righteous. The tax collector, on the other hand, isn't so much humble as desperate. He is too overwhelmed by his plight to take time to divide humanity into sides. All he recognizes as he stands near the Temple is his own great need. He therefore stakes his hopes and claims not on anything he has done or deserved but entirely on the mercy of God.
I don't think it's an accident that this exchange takes place at the Temple. On the grounds of the Temple, Jews were always aware of who they were, of what status they had, of what they could expect from God. There were "insiders" and "outsiders," and according to these rules there was no question of where the Pharisee and tax collector stood, but when Jesus dies all this changes. As the gospels report, the curtain in the Temple is torn in two, symbolically erasing all divisions of humanity before God. That act is prefigured here, as God justifies not the one favored by Temple law, but rather the one standing outside the Temple gate, and aware only of his utter need.
This is what makes this parable a trap. For as soon as we fall prey to the temptation to divide humanity into groups of people, we have aligned ourselves squarely with the Pharisee. Anytime you draw a line between who's "in" and who's "out," this parable asserts, you will find God on the other side. Read this way, the parable ultimately escapes even its narrative setting and reveals that it is not about self-righteousness and humility any more than it is about a pious Pharisee and desperate tax collector. Rather, this parable is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart; God who determines to justify the ungodly.
At the end of this story, the Pharisee will leave the Temple and return to his home righteous. This hasn't changed; he was righteous when he came up and righteous as he goes back down. The tax collector, however, will leave the Temple and go back down to his home justified—that is, accounted righteous by the God. How has this happened? The tax collector makes neither sacrifice nor restitution. On what basis, then, is he named as righteous? On the basis of God's divine mercy! Therefore, this parable is best understood, I believe, if we see ourselves as the tax collector with noting to claim before God but our dependence on God’s mercy. When this happens and we forget if only for a moment our human-constructed divisions and stand before God aware only of our need, then we, too, are justified by God and invited to return to our homes in mercy, grace, and gratitude.
A novel published in 1982, Schindler's Ark (released in America as Schindler's List) by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally, and later adapted into a highly successful movie directed by Steven Spielberg illustrates this point.
The book, based on truth, tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a Catholic, a Nazi Party member, a spy, a rogue, a profiteer and a criminal who turns into an unlikely hero by saving 1,200 Polish Jews from the extermination camps. There is a frightening incident in the book. The SS, the Gestapo surrounded the synagogue Stara Boznica the oldest synagogue in Poland in the Warsaw Ghetto. There, they found a group of traditional Jews with beards, side locks and prayer shawls, orthodox Jews, good people. But they wanted numbers. They combed the surrounding buildings. Among those who were pushed into the synagogue was a notorious criminal Max Redlicht, a Jew by birth but one who had ceased to practice, a figure in the Warsaw underworld. Redlicht was a horrible person who extorted money from his own people, robbed and murdered. He was despised and feared by everyone. When the synagogue was full, the doors were locked and an SS officer broke open the Ark which housed the sacred scrolls and placed the Torah on the ground. They then ordered the congregation to line up and file past the Torah and spit on it, under the threat that if they failed to do so they would be shot. In the end, everyone did, except Max Redlicht. When his turn came he walked up and said: No, I will not do this, I have done many horrible things in my life but I will not do this. The SS shot him in the head.
This parable is not about the bad Pharisee and the good tax collector. The people of Jesus’ day would have seen it as just the opposite. Pharisees were respected, educated, pious, faithful and holy. They did what was right. The tax collector, however, was the worst kind of a crook—a legal one. He colluded with the Roman Empire to extort money from his own people. He was a bad guy, despised and feared like Max Redlicht.
From the outside the Pharisee and tax collector seem very different. They are not, however, as different as we might think, for on the inside they are both dead; lost, broken, and in need of God. The difference is not their place in society. The real difference is that the tax collector knows he is dead and the Pharisee does not. The difference is that the Pharisee keeps score and the tax collector cries out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!
The tax collector went home justified, not because he was good or better than the Pharisee, he wasn’t, but because he offered God a dead life not a scorecard. God did not withhold anything from the Pharisee. God simply gave him what he asked for—nothing. For the tax collector God’s mercy has opened the door to a new life, a new world, a new self-understanding, and a new relationship with God. We don’t know what happened after he got home but we know this. A choice now lay before him, the choice to walk into his own resurrection. That does not tell us how the story ends. It tells us, rather, how it might begin.
The beginning of a new story, a new life, is a choice God sets before each one of us. It is a choice we make every time we tally up the points. It is a choice we make every time we cry out for mercy.
27th Sunday: Where is God?
First Reading: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Gospel Reading: Luke 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are simple workers. We have done no more than our duty!’”
Increase our faith, the disciples beg Jesus. They knew they were in way over their heads. In a sense, we are all in over our heads. How can we be about God’s work when we are so human, so simple?
This past week, I was riding in the car with a friend who said, “Tell me how God makes a difference in the world.” He was demanding an explanation for all that’s wrong—the 6 year-old autistic boy who was shot in Louisiana, climate change and all those whom ISIS has killed. “Where is God in that,” he insisted. “He needs to be held accountable.” I fell silent. When I tried to say that “My God is a woman who is with those in pain,” he wasn’t buying it. “That’s not an answer,” he said. “God needs to account for all the pain in the world.”
So when I hear the disciples asking for more faith and Jesus telling the apostles if they had faith the size of a teeny mustard seed, and that it would be sufficient to simply do their jobs—for we are no more than servants or slaves (in some translations) of God, I can’t say that I feel especially inspired. I feel inadequate all over again. If only I had more faith—or at least better answers, I’d be a better Christian. It made me wonder why I believe what I do. I was reminded of Job, asking questions that have no satisfying answers.
As I was trying to understand this more, I found a guy on-line named Ryan Bell who was a pastor for 19 years. Someone asked him the very same question, “How does God make a difference in the world?” He couldn’t answer that and decided to test it out. He really wanted to better understand what it was like to be an atheist. So for a year, he gave it all up—his beliefs, his practices. After a year, he concluded that it didn’t make any difference, a belief in God so he now writes a blog called, “Life After God,” where he and many other “Nones” are creating community outside the religious world of their former lives.
“Deconversion” is a word they used—and much of what this experience is about is sharing the abuse of intensely religious churches. Each of the members had been judged and found lacking. One told of being the pastor’s son and once he told others that he was gay, was publicly humiliated in front of the whole church while they tried to pray him straight. I get this kind of anger—those representatives of God who have failed and hurt their fellow believers. In some ways, we’re doing the same kind of “leave taking” to create a community out of our collective wounds but we are very grounded in a belief in God that does make a difference in the world and in our own lives.
Why do we profess belief in God? Does God make a difference in our lives? Does prayer work? Is God a Being who acts or is God more abstract like the Source of all Love? Can we have a personal relationship with God? These are the kinds of questions I’ve been pondering—much like the prophet Habakkuk in our first reading who has questions of his own: “How long am I to cry for help while you do not listen?” God replies that “a time will come—when those who uphold justice will live.” Wait. Be patient. Trust. I’m here—just in a different timeframe than yours. Which has always been frustrating for most of us.
God is not a short order cook. God is not a puppet or a puppeteer. It’s almost easier to say what God is not so as to clarify our argument for God. God is not just a good feeling but is belief in God can be tied to our feelings. I have felt God when I was lonely or afraid or confused. There’s no proof, just a deep down honest sense that there is more, more than just my despair or suffering. Is that only because I want that to be true? Perhaps but it’s enough to make me question less and to be still more.
I never did give my friend an answer. His anger is too deep for me to heal. And I know that blaming God gives him a place for his sadness. At some point, we might be able to talk more about this but I’m okay with not having all the answers, with letting my life and my choices speak for themselves. I’d make a very bad Evangelical pastor—which I why I’m not that. Instead, I very much consider myself a seeker along with all of you, trying to grow in my belief. Faith for me is living the question (or questions).
Paul gives us some encouragement in his letter to Timothy. He tells us to “fan into flame the gift of God—God gave us a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline.” Paul is reminding us that we have all we need to be faithful--and that we could use a little encouragement to deepen our faith, by fanning the flames.
We went to a friend’s wedding on Friday and it was a very Christian ceremony. I hope the new couple will have a wonderful marriage but I could not forget the three necessary biblical phrases they are to use: sovereignty, submission and sacrifice. Those are probably the three words that do the least for my faith, especially the second one. Even while trying to soften it, that pastor still put the man first and then the woman. Yes, it’s alive and well—all that lovely interpretation of the gospel that causes harm and shifts the message of Christ into something less.
May we try to own our faith as something essential to us. May our beliefs be open to question. And may we find comfort in knowing that Jesus believed in us first, claimed us first—It is our choice as to whether we answer the invitation. Amen.
Sunday Sept 25, 2016
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest steward. Jesus ends his teaching by underscoring the idea that one cannot serve both God and money. Between that parable and the next is a 5 verse bridge that is normally left out of our readings. It reads as follows: “And the Pharisees also, who were lovers of money, heard these things: and they scoffed at him. “But he said to them, “you are those who justify yourselves before people, but God knows your hearts: for what is exalted among people is an abomination in the sight of God.” Jesus, then, directs the parable of Lazarus and the rich man directly to the Pharisees.
This parable is often depicted as a picture of heaven and hell—a fire and brimstone warning against eternal damnation, frightening people through fear to follow certain beliefs, but that message misses the point Jesus intends to convey because Jesus takes this well-known motif and changes it with an unexpected epilogue—a plea to send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s five brothers of the consequences of their actions.
Why did Jesus extend the original story by adding the second part? It’s clear from both parts that appropriate choices need to be made in life. But what choices? The rich man would have argued that his wealth, his comfort, stemmed directly from God, and were a clear sign that he was blessed. He could even have quoted from scripture to support that view, as many still do today. “My cup runneth over, I’m truly blessed or point a finger to heaven when you do something—like score a touchdown, is still seen as a validation from God.
So why then the slur about not listening to Moses and the prophets? Perhaps this story is an echo of the previous charge of not being able to serve two masters, about having to make choices about what’s important in life. Well, that’s part of it, but I also think Jesus’ message is to hear scripture with different ears, to listen for and understand a message of God’s mercy, justice and grace. I hear an overall message here in the paired story that speaks of not using bits and pieces of scripture to justify one’s narrow perception of blessings, but instead, hearing in scripture how God’s love will be visited in ways we never guessed and upon people we could not imagine, just as it was visited upon Lazarus, not because Lazarus earned God’s favor; not because Lazarus kept all the laws of purity; certainly not because Lazarus made all the right and righteous observances – he wouldn’t have been allowed within a mile of the temple for fear of contamination.
With this addition, Jesus seems to be making it clear that the key to the life choices we need to make is contained in scripture—in his own message of God’s radical grace offered not just to the wealthy, not just to the righteous, not just to those who would be pure and sinless, but that God’s grace is given to those who hear, and accept God’s word. This is one more example of Jesus portraying how God’s favor is not, as many would have it, for the apparently deserving, but for those who need it.
We should note that the rich man is not accused of greed, theft, adultery, “or, in fact, of any wrongdoing. More than the measure of wealth, this parable asks the question of compassion. The rich man lacks compassion. When must those that have give dignity to those that lack?
Do we recognize the special place of the poor? When we serve them, do we act as if we are doing them a favor, or do we see they are doing us a favor? Do we not realize their presence is an invitation to intimacy with God?
Who are the poor? Most of the time we connect the poor with those who lack material goods. But, look again at Jesus' parable. The poor are the disdained, the hated, those kept at arm’s length, those simply not like us—our enemies. At what point do we show them compassion?
In these tragic times in which we are tempted to cry out for vengeance, let us remember we are to seek justice. For justice allows room for compassion. How can we see the poor, the sick, the outcast, as God's people in need of help? How can we view our adversaries as God's agents that challenge us to change?
It would be tragic to miss the actual point of the parable by removing it from the setting in which Jesus gave it. The Pharisees were seen as rich—blessed by God, while most others were viewed as poor—not blessed by God. The question in Luke 16:31 is a direct challenge to the Pharisees, who are the symbolic “rich man.” "If you do not believe in Scripture, how can you believe in one raised from the dead?" The Jews had been blessed above measure by knowledge of God and the plan of salvation. They had received “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.”
By contrast, Lazarus symbolizes all those people in spiritual poverty—the Gentiles—with whom the Israelites were to share their heritage. The words of Isaiah were well known to the Jews. “I will also give you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6.
Unfortunately, the Jews had not shared their spiritual wealth with the Gentiles at all. Instead, they considered them as “dogs” that would have to be satisfied with the spiritual crumbs falling from their masters’ tables. The metaphor was known. Jesus had used it before in testing the faith of the Canaanite woman. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” She responded accordingly: “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ tables.” Matthew 15:26, 27.
The rich Jews had hoarded the truth, and in so doing, they had corrupted themselves. The Jews had enjoyed “the good life” while on earth but had done nothing to bless or enrich their neighbors. No further reward was due. “Conversely, the poor in spirit, symbolized by Lazarus, would inherit the kin-dom of heaven. The Gentiles who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be filled. The “dogs” and sinners, so despised by the self-righteous Pharisees, would enter heaven before they would.
The parable concludes with the rich man begging for his brethren to be warned against sharing his fate. Asking Abraham to send Lazarus on this mission, he alleges “if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” Luke 16:30. Abraham replies, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Verse 31.
Jesus thus rebuked the Pharisees for their disregard of the Scriptures, foreseeing that even a supernatural event would not change the hearts of those who persistently rejected the teachings of “Moses and the prophets.” From these few examples, we begin to see that in this parable, Jesus was not trying to explain the physical realities of the afterlife. Instead, He was referring to the unfaithfulness of the Jews regarding their assigned responsibility. As stewards of the special message of truth, they utterly failed to share it with the Gentiles, who were eager to hear it.
Let’s accept the lesson Jesus was trying to teach and apply it to our own lives.
Are we doing all we can to spread the message of salvation to others? Do we have a genuine love for those around us, and have we invited them to share our spiritual inheritance? If we hoard our riches, like the Jews of old, we will become self-righteous and corrupt, prideful and uncompassionate. In contrast, by active, loving service, our relationship with Christ as well as with others will become stronger and more meaningful.
Twenty-fourth Sunday September 11, 2016
The fifteenth chapter of Luke consists of three parables: the Lost Sheep (verses 3-7); the Lost Coin (verses 8-10); and the Prodigal Son (verses 11-32) which is not in today’s reading.
When Jesus teaches us about the kin-dom of God, he’s teaching us about a God who demands even more of us than what He asked of the people of the Old Testament because of the relationship that Christ invites us into, the God whom Moses approached in awe and fear we approach in love. The God, who commanded Moses and the people of Israel to follow the Law in all its parts, commands the disciples and us, the members of the Church, to follow God with loving faith. As we remember today, the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against our nation, this loving faith can help us respond with the love of Christ even to those who hate us, even to those who harm us and even to those who reject us.
It’s harder to live by Love than it is to live by the Law. It takes courage to live by love. The Law offers sure knowledge of what lies ahead—follow the law and get these rewards. Love, sadly, demands that we journey through darkness, unsure of the outcome. At first, it seems that it would be easier to approach God as a loving God into whose arms we can run, than as a Lawgiver who towers over us, threatening to destroy all who are unfaithful, as in the First Reading. We tend to think of love as something that’s freeing, that lets us be who we want to be, and lets us do what we want to do. But in fact, that’s not what real love is like. Real love is when people are not disappointed or angry when we make our foolish mistakes, when we don’t do what they want, or when we inconvenience them with our needs. Real love doesn’t go away when circumstances become difficult—it survives and even grows during hardship and struggle. That is what today’s gospel is all about.
The chapter begins with a contrast between “tax collectors and sinners” and “Pharisees and scribes.” Apparently, sinners are drawn to Jesus, but religious leaders complain that he accepts and even eats with sinners. What is it about Jesus and what he does that elicits such different responses? The Pharisees and the scribes follow the law and are confident in their reward. The “sinners” are seeking a different relationship with God, and that is what Christ offers. Jesus is trying to reveal the true nature of God’s relationship to people through his teaching and his actions. Although Jesus does not judge or remark on any of the “sinner’s” behavior, there seems to be some sort of transformation taking place in their lives for them to be crowding around Jesus.
The shepherd and the woman in today’s gospel evoke images of a God who not only actively seeks out individuals who are lost -- note the emphasis on the “one” out of the ninety-nine and the ten -- but also rejoices when they are found. This God is not a tyrant who demands subservience to impossible demands, but rather a God who actively seeks restoration.
In these stories, the drama centers on something that was lost. Paired with both finding and saving, the Greek verb for “lost” (apollumi) refers not only to losing something, but also to causing or experiencing destruction. Jesus seems to be saying to the Pharisees and scribes that they are, by following the strict laws, destroying the relationship between God and the people. Jesus doesn’t say they are evil or corrupt, but they are in need of repentance.
So what happens when the sheep or the lost coin are found? Note that the verb here has to do not with forgiving but with finding. The Greek word for “find” (eurisko) occurs seven times in the chapter. When the sheep or lost coin is found, no comment is made on any sinful behavior but a connection is made between (a) God’s finding and rejoicing over what was lost and (b) “the one sinner who repents”.
Unlike the English word repentance, which implies contrition and remorse, the Greek word metanoia has to do with a change of mind and a change of purpose -- a shift in how we perceive and respond to life. When God finds us when we are lost, our usual ways of perceiving and responding to life are transformed. When we repent, we embrace a foundational change that shows in our actions, our way of being, our relating to others and our perceptions of others—it supports our values and our actions becoming aligned. It gives us the capacity to act from a strategy of empathy toward others. Repentance is not sorrow for something we’ve done, therefore, but a joy from changing our lives.
And when this happens, there is great rejoicing over the “one sinner who repents.” In the parable of the Lost Sheep, this phrase is contrasted with “righteous persons who need no repentance”, echoing the contrast that introduces the parables in this gospel reading.
We should note, however, that the emphasis here is not on a contrast between two different types of people: “tax collectors and sinners” versus “Pharisees and scribes.” Taking literally about these types misses the theological point of these parables and, unfortunately, has led to much violence against Jews in the history of Christianity. Luke does not praise the behavior of sinners. Tax collectors were corrupt, dishonest, and had colluded with the Roman Empire. By contrast, the Pharisees and scribes were the religious leaders of the day, much like professional clergy in our time.
At issue here are two different types of responses to God’s love. Sinners repent because they know they are lost and thus can avail themselves of the transformation that comes with God’s finding them. By contrast, the righteous do not need to repent (or change their ways) presumably because they already experience God’s love. They don’t need God to find them; they are justified and reconciled to God in their lives. The fact that the Pharisees do not see a need for repentance [change] is not lost with Jesus who often calls them blind. What they need is a change of mind and a change of purpose. They need less regard for the law and its assurances of reward and more regard for God’s people and the needs they have.
The parables in today’s gospel are more than simple folk stories; they are expressions of Jesus’ view of God, people, salvation, and the new age which dawned in his ministry. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees and scribes, the "religious experts" of Jesus' day, saw such action as disgusting because, in their view, it transgressed God's holiness. If Jesus truly were a righteous man, they reasoned, then He would not associate with such people; He would keep Himself pure and separate from sinners. In response to their murmuring Jesus said God rejoices more over the repentance of one sinner (those sitting with Him at table) than over "ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance"-- that is, than over the religious professionals who congratulate themselves over their own self-achieved "goodness".
So, what does this mean for us today? I most parts of America, religion lacks the cultural clout to define righteous people from sinner people. Most churches actually lack the moral authority to make such a determination. Our society, however, does name its losers, and we have the task—like the Pharisees should have done—to take the side of the underdog in society, rather than condemn them.
We must ask ourselves if we have the courage, first, to speak out loud who are the so called “sinners” in our culture, and, secondly, to take sides with them. Politicians, demagogues and the righteous are constantly scapegoating people as “sinners” who place a burden on the rest of society. As we move from one public debate to another, “sinners” include undocumented immigrants, welfare recipients, the unemployed, the homeless, single mothers, ethnic groups not our own, the elderly, the poor—the list goes on and on, but apparently does not include “respectable” people who prevent group homes from entering their neighborhoods, people who conduct business in predatory ways, people who prey on the weak and less fortunate—and this list goes on and on. Eating with sinners means taking sides.
So this gospel got me thinking. Rather than thinking of the shepherd and the woman as representing Jesus, perhaps the shepherd and the woman both represent the tax collectors and sinners. The shepherd risks everything on finding his lost treasure--the lost sheep. The woman spends a great deal of time focusing on finding her lost treasure--the lost coin. In both cases, others are invited to join with them, rejoice and celebrate because they found what was lost. This would seem consistent with other teachings of Jesus where he talks about the cost of discipleship. Thus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law should be rejoicing because the tax collectors and sinners have repented and found what they have lost--salvation...the kin-dom of heaven...God? After all, the tax collectors and sinners would have probably been Jewish rather than Gentile. They have found what they have lost, and the Pharisees should be rejoicing.
Let me leave you with this old story about a cold night in England many years age. A group of children slipped into a church to get warm. The minister was preaching on Luke 15: 1-10, todays gospel, which in the King James Version of the Bible reads, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” Afterwards, one of the children, a little girl of about 7 years old, went up to the pastor and said, “Pardon me, sir, but I never knew that my name was in the Bible.” He asked, “What is your name, child?” “Edith, sir,” she replied. “I’m sorry,” said the pastor, “Edith is not in the Bible.”
“Yes it is, sir,” she said, “I heard you say, ‘This man receiveth sinners, and Edith with them.”
Even though that little girl misunderstood the text, she applied the truth of it personally to her situation. Put your name in that little girl’s understanding and see how it works for you. “This man receives sinners, and [Nick] with them.” “This man receives sinners, and [Bonnie] with them.” “This man receives sinners, and [Jerry] with them.” “This man receives sinners, and [Mary] with them.”
Perhaps we should all rejoice in our recognition by God.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
First Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21
For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory,19and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud—which draw the bow—to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord.21And I will also take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord.
Second Reading: Taken from “A Joseph Campbell Companion” by Diane Osbon
"As we love ourselves, we move toward our own bliss, by which Joseph Campbell meant our highest enthusiasm. The word ‘entheos’ means ‘god-filled.’ Moving towards that which fills us with the godhood, that place where time is not, is all we need to do to change the world around us. Then we, naturally and without effort, love others and allow them to move beyond their self-imposed limitations, and in their own ways. The goal is to evolve to that place where the energy that had been projected outward to correct the world is turned around to correct oneself—to get on our own track and to dance, to balance, between the worlds.”
Gospel Reading: Luke 13:22-30
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them,24“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
You may be wondering why we have a Joseph Campbell reading in place of our second reading today. Today’s second reading was all about punishment so we decided to switch it up. There was a need for something that could inspire, not negate or judge. Even our gospel ends with somewhat of a threat—some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. Boom. It’s important to remember that Jesus was speaking to a stubborn, simple minded people. I’d like to believe we’re just a bit different, a bit more developed.
Whenever I’ve heard this the first will be last and the last will be first reading, I’ve naturally thought, OK, I’ll be last because of course I want to be first. And there’s certainly something to be said for allowing others to go first. First in line, no, you go ahead, I’m good. Watching the Olympics has reinforced this. Gold is best. First is best. The more gold medals makes us the better nation. This is a very linear way of thinking. And we’ve done it all our lives.
Joseph Campbell is a mythologist and a writer who says:
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
He is trying to teach us something that leaves our typical way of thinking behind. He’s moving us beyond linear time and space. Remember Star Trek? Time is very different there--You can not only be in a different place in the blink of an eye, there can be multiple you’s in several places at once. Campbell is trying to get us away from the idea that there is any line or comparison, indeed not any competition between us. Life is not about what those people were asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few be saved? How many?” There are no limits to God’s love. There is no first or last. There is love, joy and that’s what should guide us.
Campbell’s says “Follow your bliss,” which sounds very new age. What he means is, “What fills you with joy? What gives you a sense of deep purpose and meaning?” Whatever that is—that is what you should be focused on. Do what you love to do because that’s what causes you to be “god-filled.” And when you are God-filled, there is no need for comparison. You are whole. When we are whole, we invite others to be who they are without judgement or barriers. He says that this is a place or a way of being where “time is not.”
We should long to be god-filled, inspired, full of God. Love seems to be the basis of this way of being—which means we have to truly love ourselves before we can know or discover what it is that bring us bliss. What causes us to feel full of God? Rarely is it something that doesn’t impact others as well. For me, it’s working with others who are seeking, struggling to find meaning in the darkness. For others, it’s being creative, baking, sewing, making art, caring or being with loved ones, caring for them. Dancing can be a form of being god-filled.
Campbell tells us to dance, to balance between the two worlds. Taking all that energy that is focused outward to fixing the world and turning it inward until we know how to simply be enthused. The word for this is ENTHEOS which means “full of the God, inspired, possessed.” It is the root for the word “enthusiasm.” (Handout)
And I hope you’ve heard about what happened at the Olympics when one woman clipped another woman on the track when they were trying to qualify for the 5000 meter competition. The American D’Agostino clipped the Netherlands Hamblin. They both went flying with 2,000 meters left to run. D’Agostino got up but Hamblin did not so D’Agostino stopped her race, went over to Hamblin and helped her up, saying, “You’ve got to get up.” She did and began running but notice D’Agostino was struggling with an injury. Hamblin waited for her but then finished the race. Later she noticed that D’Agostino had finally hobbled to the finish. As she was being taken away in a wheelchair, they hugged. Hamblin said that that was the Olympic spirit at work—and that’s what she’ll remember from the race. Even though neither of them qualified for the finals, the Olympic committee let them both run in the finals because of the way they helped each other. Entheos. D’Agostino knew she was following her bliss by helping her colleague. That’s the attitude, the way of being, using entheos to inspire—May we find our bliss and cultivate it until it changes the way we react to life.
The Assumption of Mary
Aug. 15 2016
First Reading: Revelation 11:19 - 12:10
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.5And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days. 7And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:9-28
9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.
Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-56
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Sermon: Today we celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus, the cousin to Elizabeth, the young girl who was visited by an angel who said she was to be the Mother of God. Her yes started a cataclysmic set of events that changed the world. We are who we are because of her willingness to hear God’s call and to act.
If Mary hadn’t been the bold, confident girl she was, there would be no Jesus, no disciples, no churches, no Pope. It’s astonishing how all of Christianity hinges on Mary. Many, many assumptions have been made about her. Even the feast of the Assumption is rather assuming. It has no scriptural basis in the New Testament. Scriptures used are Genesis (3:15) and Revelations from our first reading (12:1-2)—the first and last books of the Bible. Both are a bit of a stretch. And yet, Pope Pius XII in 1950 determined as infallible that Mary did indeed assume into heaven, bodily. There are great variations on this belief. Some say that she died first and was resurrected in three days and then assumed into heaven. Others believe she never died but was fully alive as she was lifted into the clouds. The other word used for today’s feast is the Dormition of Mary or the falling asleep of Mary.
This feast was initially called the Memory of Mary. But, when it was discovered that there were no relics of Mary, it changed. The story goes that the disciples were with Mary when she died but when they visited her tomb later, there was no body, so they believe she was resurrected. A priest who wrote about the Assumption said, “The Assumption is God's crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over.” This feast certainly lauds Mary as a woman of faith whom God blessed in many ways. As Catholics, it has led to many evangelical groups criticizing our practice of “worshiping” Mary, even though none of us sees it that way. I can remember May crownings were such a special time of honoring who Mary was. Never did I believe I was worshiping her but I can see how others might view those practices as such.
Today my goal is not to argue this doctrine, that Mary was assumed into heaven, but to remind us that Mary was an amazing woman who was far ahead of her time, who raised her son in a way that enabled him to be inclusive of all people, who loved her son unconditionally so that he could love others in the same way, who taught Jesus to respect women and to see them as valid human beings who could carry his message to others.
The only words we have from Mary were when Jesus at age twelve scared her to death because she thought he was lost. In Luke she says, “Son, why have you done this to us? You see that your father and I were so worried looking for you.” And then at the wedding feast at Cana when she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” In both instances there is tension between Mary and Jesus which clearly indicates a mom who is not passive or shy. Even if he is the son of God, he’s also Mary’s son and she is going to state her case. Jewish mothers have a reputation for being rather strong-willed.
Some of the songs that laud Mary do not get close to this: “Sing of Mary, pure and lowly, virgin mother undefiled.” That’s an attempt to lessen her strength, to encourage other women to be that way, pure, lowly. And we are in a time of great change, of a woman being president perhaps. Of women now serving in the army, in all fields where they were never allowed before. The Church must recognize this reality—and see that this is part of God’s doing. So perhaps the song could be, “Sing of Mary, strong and confident, Jewish mother not to be denied.”
There is some evidence that the Church is trying, or on the verge of trying. On August 2, the Pope called for a commission to study the diaconate of women. It’s an exciting prospect, one that we haven’t had for a long time. As we know, women were deacons in the early church, (Phoebe is named in Romans) mostly to baptize other women but the pope has said that he wants women to have more of a role in the church. This commission is made up of six men and six women and overseen by a Jesuit. The members are an impressive group of professors, nuns and priests. This may indicate a more respectful attitude towards women in the church. Whether it will lead to any significant change remains to be seen.
Finally, the best indication we have that Mary was a strong woman is the words she says about herself. In today’s gospel, Mary speaks of how she is the one whom God has chosen: from now on all generations shall call me blessed. As a woman of faith, I cannot imagine saying those words. Mary was clearly transformed by her encounter with the angel Gabrielle; she believed beyond logical proof, that indeed God had chosen her. That’s a woman of strength, fierce belief and confidence. And she maintained that belief, that confidence throughout Jesus’ birth, life, ministry and death. She, perhaps more than anyone else, understood the power of her “yes.” Mary claims her value and her role in the Magnificat. Today our gospel stands as testimony to the power of a woman to change the world. Amen.
Prayer after Communion:
A CHANGE OF HEART Question of the Day: How have you experienced “birthpangs”?
All this is only the beginning of the birthpangs.
~ Matthew 24:8, JB
“Birthpangs” is an apt metaphor used by the prophets referring to something painful that is bringing about something better (see, for example, Isaiah 13:8 or Jeremiah 21:9). The price for bringing about something better is invariably to go through the pain of birth. In most mythology, male gods create by a flick of their creative finger. Female gods often create by labor pains of some sort.
Much of patriarchal Christianity has been trying to avoid pain, as we already see in the twelve apostles (e.g., Mark 8:31-33). Males hope they can avoid birthpangs by making an “end run” around them. Maybe that is why we could not hear a lot of the transformational teaching of Jesus. It also shows us that Jesus was a very untypical male, surely not a patriarch.
If we had an image of God as a great Mother who is always giving birth, I think birth pangs would have been preached about and understood a lot more. Maybe that was the image of Mary as the “Sorrowful Mother” at the foot of the cross or with the pierced heart, for many Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Any woman, who has had a child, consciously understands something I will never understand: she knows the necessary connection between pain and new life. Jesus says it clearly, “a woman in childbirth suffers,” but afterwards she has joy (John 16:20-21)! We must allow Mary, mothers, and all women to more inform our reading of the Gospels or we might end up missing the core message.
~ Richard Rohr
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Faith: Where Your Treasure Is
First Reading: Wisdom of Solomon 18:6-9
That night was made known beforehand to our ancestors,
so that they might rejoice in sure knowledge of the oaths in which they trusted.
The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies
were expected by your people.
For by the same means by which you punished our enemies
you called us to yourself and glorified us.
For in secret the holy children of good people offered sacrifices,
and with one accord agreed to the divine law,
so that the saints would share alike the same things,
both blessings and dangers;
and already they were singing the praises of the ancestors.
Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Gospel Reading: Luke 12:32-48
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
41Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”42And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. 47That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
What a horrible ending of a gospel reading—be prepared or you will be punished, maybe even severely punished. We are those to whom much has been given—all of us are the privileged few—so to whom much is given, much will be required—much, much more will be asked. How terrifying.
Remember, Jesus began this lesson with the words, “Fear not.” How strange to end with such a threat. This is the kind of fire and brimstone scripture that many evangelical preachers love. Which is why I had such trouble with it. What are we to believe? What lesson can feed our souls?
Jesus spoke as if his listeners should be prepared at any time for the end of the world, when God would come and judge each and every one of them. Two thousand years have passed and still, we’re supposed to be waiting? After a while, the threat wears thin. And as adult Catholics, we don’t do well with being threatened. But we can all be challenged, invited, encouraged.
Let’s go back to these scriptures and examine what is meant by treasures: “Wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart will be.” Jesus is speaking about our priorities, making sure that our life has the right priorities, the correct values. That’s something we can all reexamine.
We just got back from Boston last night after being surrounded by very intelligent people at Haavaad. Our Jonathan is starting medical school there and we attended his white coat ceremony. The Dean said that we shouldn’t be surprised if our son/daughter doesn’t finish in four years—that only 40% of the class typically graduates in four years. Now, many students get a Masters or do a year of research. The bar keeps getting raised. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or overwhelmed. Afterwards we had good conversations with Jon. He certainly feels the pressure of performing well—of now being among the best and still overachieving—but he’s very much aware of the pitfalls of that. Thankfully, Jon was able to say that while he sees the opportunities ahead of him, he also wants a “life”—that is, a wife and children, not just a career. So I breathed a sigh of relief. His sense of accountability was much more in balance than his parents, thank heavens.
During the ceremony, his class ended with an oath, one that they had created during the previous week. It sounded so grounded, so honest, sjo well-intentioned in how to care for patients. Here is some of it:
“Breathe together, watch together, be together and pause. Listen. We pledge to respect how people become patients. To recognize the whole person, who encompasses far more than disease. We seek to understand our patients’ lives, not direct them. To remember that our profession and our continual learning intertwine with the lives of others. When our patients show us their pain, we will see them, when our patients tell us their stories we will hear them.” It went on and finally ended with, “We strive to listen to every person, (to) wake up to the realities of the world, strengthen our abilities, and rise up so that we may share wisdom, truth and kindness in all that we do.”
Not bad, right? I was especially pleased to hear the “kindness” part. Being kind was promoted throughout the day. Rather than our treasures being something external, it was clear that the treasure was found within, in the intention to connect. No fear or threat, but a gentle call for kindness. Kindness to self was also promoted. Above all, it was having self-awareness to stay balanced, exactly what Jon was talking about. Phew.
Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the reality of all that is hoped for, the proof or conviction of all that is unseen. We left feeling very hopeful. I have great faith in what the next generation can cause—maybe even world peace is possible.
Rather than threat or punishment, let us focus on trust and hope for the not yet. Afterall, it is our faith that we celebrate each and every Sunday when we gather here. It’s the reason we continue to read from scripture and struggle with mystery and life. Faith is our foundation, what helps us continue to hope. It’s what sustains us when times are tough, especially in the face of illness, physical or mental, or when times are so uncertain, like our upcoming election process. Faith is what calms us, makes us take a breath and say, “All will be well. Yes, I believe. Now I remember. Be still and know that God is near. Fear not.”
It is my faith that enabled me to leave Boston last night and to come home with a deep sense of gratitude. I left a bit of my treasure in Boston, my Jon. Another little bit is now in London, my Matt. I have to believe that for all of us, our hope is for good and not for bad. That takes faith because we know that there are thieves and crazy people with knives who maim and kill. There are threats everywhere. So I believe that faith is a choice. We either choose to believe or not to believe. And to believe in what? To believe in God, in goodness, in good overcoming evil? Yes, yes and yes. May each of us, take time to pause and reclaim our faith, our treasures and our sense of accountability. We are right where we need to be and God is with us. Amen.
To have faith is to defy logic. It takes faith to think positively. It takes faith to believe that there is a loving God who cares deeply about our pain. To believe in life, the universe, or yourself after numerous failures is to have courage. Faith is an act of courage. It is choosing to get up in the morning and face our fears and believe that God will help us. You have to find some way to not become a cynical or negative person, a person who keeps walking around and opening your eyes in the outside world but inside you close down, a person who stops expecting tomorrow to be better than today.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/richardroh527289.html
July 3, 2016
First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-16
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— 11that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. 12For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. 13As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.
For the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to pay back his anger in fury, and his rebuke in flames of fire. 16For by fire will the Lord execute judgment, and by his sword, on all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many.
Second Reading: Galatians 6:14-18
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 17From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. 18May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.
Gospel Reading: Luke 10:1-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
There is an art to hospitality. Yesterday, we had friends over and it made us clean and prep and try new recipes. We had been anticipating their coming and we’re very excited when they finally arrived. Anna had been saying their names over and over beforehand. We had games for the kids to play. It was an expected stress and a wonderful time together.
When people arrive unexpectedly, there is a different kind of stress. Our house is not always spotless, so I am guarded about how far someone can come into our space. It’s pride, protection and a bit of anxiety.
In the time of Christ, guests coming and going would have been common. I’d imagine that you’d have certain things ready most of the time for the unexpected guest, for their comfort—water to wash their feet, a drink of goat’s milk and a taste of whatever the woman of the house was baking. That would have been the basics.
In our gospel today, Jesus sends forth seventy disciples to have them prepare the way for his visiting these cities later. He wants them to trust in the hospitality of others. He tells them to bring nothing—no purse, no bag, no sandals which meant no money, no provisions, and nothing to protect their feet, which were their only mode of transportation. Ouch.
These pairs of disciples must have had such passion for the journey. They are completely trusting of Jesus sending them forth—even though he says they are like lambs in the midst of wolves. Jesus expects their success, that they would be able to heal and preach and touch many lives, and that they would be taken care of thanks to the kindness of a host. If the numbers are correct, it would mean that together, they would have brought Jesus’s message to 35 cities overall. The good news was spreading far and wide. Now these towns could prepare for his coming. They would be ready to help host him and to hear from Jesus directly. How exciting.
But for those cities who did not receive the disciples, Jesus gives strong directions—they should get a warning. The disciples could wipe the dust off their feet because in this town no one offered water for them to wash their feet; such was their lack of hospitality. For these towns, their fear of the stranger was greater than their faith in the potential good that might come their way. Jesus warns those that live in fear: fear cannot be the way of life. Fear leads us inward, keeps our doors and hearts closed. These people might have a second chance, if they change their ways.
And there was great success. The disciples returned with joy, telling their stories of how even the demons obeyed them. Jesus celebrates this but reminds them not to feel their own power but to remember it is God working through them. Always that is our focus. Whenever we help heal or give comfort, it is important to know that like the pairs of disciples in our gospel today, we are God’s instruments. And our names will be written in heaven, like signing the guest book for eternity. For the disciples this was the promise that inspired them, to live forever with God in heaven. It remains a strong motivation for many of us, the promise of eternal life.
Today’s gospel might be summarized like this: 1) May we always do any work for God in pairs, the core of relationship. 2) May we rely less on our provisions and more on God, not letting money or material possessions block the way for God to work in and through us. Simplicity enables God to remain the focus of our lives and our work. 3) May our doors be open to the stranger, not living in fear. Then we may reap gifts of healing and unexpected good news. 4) May we always remember it is God working through us that enables miracles to happen.
In the words of St. Teresa of Avila, may we live God’s call:
Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
First Reading: Zechariah 12:10-11
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.
Second Reading: Galatians 3:26-29
Each one of you is a child of God because of your faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are the offspring of Sarah and Abraham, which means you inherit all that was promised.
Gospel Reading: Luke 9:18-24
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” 21He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
Our readings today emphasize us as members of God’s family. Being a member of a family is not always fun—there are responsibilities and expectations. Each of us has a human family and we may have suffered for that. I am always amazed by how strong the bonds are with family. We care deeply, which means the emotions are always deep. From anger to joy to frustration to compassion, family is a mixed bag. Being a member of God’s family is no different.
Jesus says that part of this membership includes suffering. Just as Jesus suffered, we too will suffer but our suffering is different. Our suffering is due to our attachments to worldly goals, worldly pleasures such as our longing for power and recognition and money. All of us have been taught to seek those things as evidence of our worth. The more money we have the more valuable we are. Jesus has come to say that this is not true. Each of us has great value—separate from how the world judges us.
We are told that we will “lose our life for Jesus’ sake, we will actually be saved.” Here is where Jesus wants us to understand that God’s ways are not the world’s ways. Rather, love for each other, inclusion, acceptance of everyone regardless of their differences—that’s God’s way. Can we lose the world’s view and take on God’s view? That leads us to life, eternal life.
Last Sunday, we heard about the horrific violence in Orlando in a gay bar called the Pulse. We heard that this was a place of celebration and community gathering, a safe space for those who might otherwise experience ridicule and judgement for their sexual orientation. And how one man, a man who was clearly confused about his own sexual orientation, who killed so many innocent people. He was not living as someone who valued others. He didn’t even value himself. His rage was misdirected and lethal.
Our reaction has been one of gathering together, coming together to remind ourselves of Christian values—love, acceptance and choosing not to hate our enemies but to forgive them. That’s much easier for me to say than for a parent or partner of those murdered. We believe that love will prevail.
Today I went to the Gay Pride parade in Iowa City. I wanted to be with that community to show my solidarity. This was a direct attack on their innocence, their courage to be who they are and my heart grieves with them. And I hope that by gathering together we can give others strength to forgive, to not act out in more violence but to do as Christ would do—to love and to forgive.
Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Some of us need to forgive our own fathers for their judgement of us, their bad parenting, maybe for their absence. My dad loves me but he doesn’t accept my being a priest. Our relationship has suffered because of this. I don’t feel free to talk with him about my life. He just turned 85 so there’s not much time left to change things. I’m okay with that. I’ve forgiven him. I have to stop my need for his approval—maybe that never ends.
Jesus is the best example of how to be loving and non-judgmental. As Paul said to the Galatians, “In Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So it is to Jesus we look to for our hope in this life. With God’s grace, we can renounce the ways of this world—wanting its approval, its shallow way of judging whether or not we are worthy. With Jesus we can discover our true selves—the part of us that is caring and joyful and able to help others—and live with confidence and assurance that we are part of God’s family, ones who will inherit all that has been promised.
How can we respond to violence in our own lives? How can we be our true selves? How have we been affected by Orlando?
Sunday, June 5, 2016
First Reading: 1 Kings 8:41-43
Solomon said, “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
Second Reading: Galatians 1:1-12
Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
10Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Gospel: Luke 7:1-10
7After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Faith is a tricky thing; it can be tested and found lacking but when it is coupled with humility, it becomes an authentic reflection of our hearts. This week I had the very sad task of helping a mother deal with the suicide of her 21 year-old son, I’ll call Austin. He had had mental illness troubles all his life and she had just kicked him out of the house. Needless to say, she was feeling very guilty on top of her grief. She had been raised Catholic and said, “I was always taught that suicide is the worst, that it’s the unforgiveable sin. Is my son going to hell?”
How does faith help a woman like this? Does faith solve all mystery? Do any of us really understand faith? I’ve always believed that faith is a choice; we either choose to believe or not. We hear Paul chastising the people of Galatia who are trying to determine their beliefs—to not listen to any words other than the words of the gospel, words that are very challenging to believe especially for those people at that time.
Faith must be a choice that helps us, challenges us to be our best and causes us to realize that we are not alone. As this mother was grieving the ultimate loss of her son, the loss of his very soul, her faith was causing her potential harm. So she questioned it. Deep down, she knew it was not helpful to believe that God would forsake a young man in his time of need. I reminded her that when Catholicism taught that suicide was a mortal sin, it certainly did not understand the issue of mental health. I invited her to think of God as a loving parent who understood Austin’s depression and how desperate he was to be relieved of his pain. Rather, than punishing him, I believe that God was ready to catch him in his loving arms and to reassure him that there would be no more pain or suffering. Just as the Prodigal Son did everything wrong and the father welcomed him back home, so too God wants all of us back home, safe from harm and the ravishes of mental illness.
This mother nodded her head in relief. She knew that God’s love was beyond any law or reason or ancient teaching of the Catholic church. Then she asked if I could baptize Austin. I said that I would be honored to do so. Austin had a younger brother, Lanny a nine year-old who was my helper. I cannot imagine his pain is seeing his big brother on a vent and preparing to go to the OR for donation. So I had Lanny be my helper. He held the water and the shell that I used to baptize Austin. Once it was over, Lanny put his head on Austin and cried. It seemed a very appropriate response.
The next day I got a page for this family. Lanny wanted me to baptize him. When I went to see them, I asked Lanny, “Why do you want to be baptized?” He said, “So I can be close to Austin and be close to God.” That was a perfect answer. Lanny wanted the baptism to happen beside his brother and he wanted a lot more water—he wanted to get wet. I baptized Lanny and at the end, I said, “OK Lanny, now you are part of God’s family and are free of all your sins.” He punched his fists in the air and said, “Yes!” It was the perfect response. And then, he cried on Austin’s chest all over again. That is faith—not artificial hope but very real hope in the face of darkness. Austin was able to donate many of his organs—so his life did not end in vain.
Faith must be that which brings life, not harm or destruction. The centurion understood this. He believed that Jesus could heal and heal from afar. Jesus said that he had not seen this kind of faith. It would have been amazing to be at the home of the slave when suddenly he got well. Eventually they would come to know that it was because of Jesus and because of the centurion—a relationship of trust and deep faith. This is a lesson in belief, in the kind of faith that empowers and heals. May we work to stop that faith which divides and harms—there are still misunderstandings about Catholicism. Today the words, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” are the words traditional Catholics are using before receiving communion. When those changes were made, most Catholics rejected the idea that our unworthiness is lifegiving and yet—they now say those words every time they go to mass. We claim that we are worthy and that we rejoice in our worthiness—we do not take it foregranted. Rather, in spite of our sinfulness, God as loving parent, receives us, cares for us and will indeed forgive our every sin. That is our belief. That is our faith. Amen.
How does faith help you? What beliefs are most important to you?
Homily of Corpus Christi
May 29, 2016
By Nick Smith
Today is the solemnity of Corpus Christi—the body of Christ.
Each time we attend mass and receive the Eucharist, we are presented with the truth: the priest says, “The body of Christ” and we respond, “Amen.” Thus, we acknowledge that we believe that Christ is present. This acclimation is at the heart and core of our belief as Catholics.
How is this possible? Today I will attempt to explain the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation—a rather daunting task.
First, Catholics have always believed that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist. Jesus himself said so at the Last Supper, when He took bread and said, ‘This is my Body,’ and wine and said, “This is my Blood.’
What did Jesus say precisely?
"This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (cf. John 6:50-51)
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you … he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (cf. John 6:53-56).
57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. [normally the stopping place]
If we continue on, however, Jesus says,
” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
These are the words of Christ and present us with an awesome truth. But how can we even begin to understand them?
The earliest Christians believed in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. St. Paul made that clear in his first letter to the Corinthians [our second reading today] when he referred to the bread and wine of the Eucharist as the 'body and blood of the Lord,' Jesus Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch in a letter to the Roman Church about 110 A.D., says, 'I desire the Bread of God, the heavenly Bread, the Bread of Life, which is the flesh of Jesus
Christ...; I wish the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.'
There were four different theories on the subject of the body of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.
The Gnostics believed that the presence was that of pure spirit, not the body of Christ—the consumer is united in a spirit manner with Christ. Later they refused to take the Eucharist because the body and blood concept was unacceptable to them.
Others believed that the essence of Christ was present—the bread and wine were still bread and wine but Christ’s essence was also in them.
Some believed that the presence was symbolic of the body and blood of Christ done in remembrance of the last supper.
And some believed that the bread and wine were actually truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Only the true body and blood view survived, winning out over all the other views, but all Christians knew that Christ was present when the partook of the Eucharist—"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
St. Augustine [354 -430]
The bread and wine, sanctified by the word of God, is the body and blood of Christ. It was by means of these things that the Lord Christ wished to present us with his body and blood, which he shed for our sake for the forgiveness of sins. If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive. You see, the apostle says, We, being many, are one loaf, one body (1 Cor. 10.17). That's how he [Augustine] explained the sacrament of the Lord's Table; one loaf, one body, is what we all are, many though we be (Augustine, Sermons, 227).
Augustine believed that in a sense the elements are the body and blood of Jesus. “The bread…is the body of Christ…that cup…is the blood of Christ.” In what sense is he speaking?
First, looking at the context, it is clear that Augustine is using figurative language. Just as he asserts that the bread is the body of Christ, he is equally emphatic that Christians are one loaf, one body. Clearly, he means that the one Eucharistic loaf represents the unity among believers. The Eucharistic elements are the figure or sign of Christ, as Augustine asserts explicitly elsewhere in his writings:
The Lord did not hesitate to say: “This is My Body”, when He wanted to give a sign of His body” (Augustine, Against Adimant).
He [Christ] committed and delivered to His disciples the figure of His Body and Blood” (Augustine, on Psalm 3).
[The sacraments] bear the names of the realities which they resemble. As, therefore, in a certain manner the sacrament of Christ's body is Christ's body, and the sacrament of Christ's blood is Christ's blood” (Augustine, Letter 98, From Augustine to Boniface).
The Eucharist is the figure of the body and blood of Jesus. Since the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ, it is acceptable to call them His body and His blood. The bread resembles the body; therefore it is called the body even though it is not the reality it represents. That is perfectly normal in figurative language.
Augustine believed that the bread and cup were signs, which he defines in this manner: “a sign is a thing which, over and above the impression it makes on the senses, causes something else to come into the mind as a consequence of itself.
It was the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) that formulated the principle of the exclusive reservation of the Mass to priestly competence. But this doctrine - like so many others - was formulated under the assumptions of the time, and it is not clear that through it all the best solutions for the future had been exhausted. For the Middle Ages, a commission from top to bottom seemed the only correct way to secure the legitimization of the ministries, and the Church simply applied this model to the structure of the Church and the priestly ministry in order to increase their power and their monopoly on the faith. Prior to this date, the Eucharist was celebrated as the Lord’s supper or the Lords meal by the people and the liturgy was basically whatever the owner of the house or the organizer of the service chose it to be—usually utilizing the Lord’s prayer and the words ‘this is my body and this is my blood’—but by 1215 the Catholic Church was being formulated only from the point of view and the position of clerics, so that formulation tried to express the divine mysteries as well as they could, but at the same time tried to define their own unassailable status, with all the paradoxes which we experience today.
In other words, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that only an ordained priest can bless the bread of the Lord's Supper, it is transformed into the actual flesh of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odor, and taste of bread); and when they bless the wine, it is transformed into the actual blood of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odor, and taste of wine). Is such a concept biblical? Shortly after this, priests were no longer allowed to be married, had to take vows of celibacy and their wives were either sold into slavery, killed or exiled along with their children unless the priest resigned.
Over time, Catholic theologians have reflected on the doctrine of Jesus' real presence in the Eucharist in order to clarify and deepen the Church's understanding of it. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was one of those theologians. He was the first to use Aristotle's ideas about substance and accidents [perceivable features] to describe how the Eucharistic bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. His explanation was so clear and precise for the clerics of the middle ages that the word 'transubstantiation' became part of the Church's official teaching about the Eucharist.
The rediscovery of the philosophy of Aristotle gave medieval Christians a language in which to explore their understanding that the bread and wine of the Eucharist were not “just” signs of Jesus presence but were the real presence indeed. They combined two Latin words, “trans” meaning “across” and “substantia” meaning substance or essence.
St. Thomas Aquinas tried to explain the concept using the newly rediscovered philosophical terms used by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who developed the concept of metaphysics—the fundamental nature of “being” and the “world” that encompasses it. Basically, metaphysics tries to answer two basic questions: what is there? and what is it like? There are two key elements: substance and accident. For Aquinas [and Aristotle] “substance” is the quality that makes a particular thing be that “thing.” For example, we all drove automobiles here today. They are all cars/autos, but they all have different features. All cars are cars, even though they may have different colors, different shapes, different sizes, etc. They are all cars. The qualities that make them cars is called “substance, but the differences between the various cars are called “accidents.” These accidents are not essential to the reality that each individual car is a car.
Applying those principles to the consecration of the bread and wine, St. Thomas explains that the accidents—the external appearance, the color, the smell, the taste of bread and wine all remain but are inconsequential because that is only “what it is.” In actuality, the bread and wine have now become a different substance. It is no longer bread and wine but the body and blood of Christ—what theologians call the “sacramental species” which still looks like bread and wine.
Let me try another way. Look around you. We are all people; we are all different, but we are all still people. If you looked at a picture of me from fifty years ago, I would look different, but it is still me. A rocking chair, a folding chair, a Lazy-Boy, a lawn chair and an overstuffed chair, although they are different, are all chairs because they have the essence of what makes a chair a chair.
Let me explain it, yet, in another way. A runner wins a marathon, and they are given a gold medal. The medal has a shape, a weight, a color and a consistency, but that is not what its essence is—its essence is the training and sacrifice and work and effort that went into winning the race.
During Christ’s life, he looked like a man. His divinity was veiled through his appearance and his human nature. It was his humanity that was apparent to his disciples and to us. No one could see his divinity. To believe that Jesus was God required an act of faith. Now in the Eucharist, both Christ’s divinity and humanity are hidden, veiled by the sacramental species of bread and wine. It requires a great act of faith to say that what appears to be bread and wine is the Body of Christ.
The Council of Trent (1551) officially incorporated the term in its definitive teaching on the Eucharist, by stating: “By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”
All this says is that this belief we have—that Christ is present in the Eucharist—shall be called transubstantiation.
Could you or I deny this possibility? No. To say it is not possible, to say this is not what Jesus said, to say this transubstantiation does not happen would be making yourself equal to or superior to God. Of course, God can transubstantiate any old thing she pleases, and who am I to say she cannot. However, the teaching on transubstantiation is only a teaching; the real dogma is the truth that Christ is present with us here at this celebration. If one cannot accept Aristotle’s metaphysics involved in transubstantiation, rest assured that the Church has no official philosophy, and that transubstantiation is merely a helpful ways of affirming truths about the Eucharist—about the presence of Christ. If one would prefer to think of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in another way that philosophically grasps the meaning of what transubstantiation implies (the presence of Christ) then one is free to articulate this meaning in other ways.
This whole transubstantiation concept is almost too much for my poor brain to understand.
What I do understand is that Jesus the Christ was sacrificed for our salvation, reuniting us with our creator and that we are invited into the kin-dom of God for eternity. All that is required is faith in Jesus and love for one another.
If you believe that when you receive the Eucharist you receive the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, You have faith!
If you believe that when you receive the Eucharist you receive the essence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, You have faith!
If you believe that when you receive the Eucharist you receive the bread and wine in memory of Jesus Christ, You have faith!
If you believe that when you receive the Eucharist you receive the spirit of Jesus Christ, you have faith!
If you believe that you can be in the presence of Jesus Christ without receiving the Eucharist, you have faith!
Isn’t faith what we come here for, to be united in fellowship with others of faith, to be united with Jesus, to be united as one with God abiding within each other as an expression of our love and our faith.
Isn’t it all about faith?
November 11, 2015—Pope Francis response to Eucharist.
Here below are the Pope’s comments in context (my working translation):
Question: My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I'm married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord's Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?
Pope Francis: The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!
I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this command to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the eternal banquet in the new Jerusalem, but that will be the last one. In the meantime, I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.
It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? You’re a witness also of a profound journey, a journey of marriage: a journey really of the family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.
When you feel yourself to be a sinner – and I feel more of a sinner – when your husband feels a sinner, you go to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution. I’m healed to keep alive the Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same. The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.
I once had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop who went a little wrong – he was 48 years old, married, two children. This was a discomfort to him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?
It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what's the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.
Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-tells-lutheran-to-talk-to-the-lord-about-receiving-eucharist/#ixzz49hbboqtA
Talk to the Lord and then go forward; in other words, follow your own conscience. This is remarkable, remarkable indeed.
Sunday May 15, 2016
First Reading: Acts 2: 1-11
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Gospel Reading: John 20:19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Last week I received this email. It said:
“Dear Faithful America member,
Deporting 11 million people, separating parents from their children. Banning anyone who appears Muslim from entering the United States. Claiming that Mexicans are "rapists."
Donald Trump's proposed immigration and border policies aren't just unwise, they're morally wrong and profoundly unchristian. And now that he's clinched the nomination, we have a responsibility to speak up.
Next Sunday, Christians all over the world will celebrate Pentecost, remembering how the Holy Spirit has knit together people of all nations and languages to share Jesus' good news.
So pastors across the country are taking this occasion to preach sermons that condemn Trump's proposals as fundamentally incompatible with the Gospel. Preachers won't be telling anyone who to vote for - only speaking truthfully and legally about how the all the members of the body of Christ, in our rich diversity, are called to unite in confronting such blatant racism and hatred.
If you're preaching on Pentecost and you're planning to participate, click here to let us know - so we can keep track and tell the press about how many churches are involved.
Thanks! - Michael”
Michael Sherrard is the executive director of Faithful America which is an online Christian community seeking to put faith into action. He used to direct Move On.org. Their byline is Love Thy Neighbor. No Exceptions, which I think would make an awesome bumper sticker.
So I emailed Bonnie and Mike and told them that I wanted to sign up to preach about Trump on Pentecost. They gave their okay and I clicked on the link in that email to let them know we were “planning to participate.”
Last week you heard me say that Trump’s favorite Bible passage is “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24).” While Helene helped explain that this Bible passage was an advancement for people at that time, (putting a boundary on violence) I want to remind us that we are now a long way away from when the Hebrew Bible was written. The Book of Exodus is attributed to Moses and God knows we don’t want to go back to those times. I find it frightening that we are on the brink of even the possibility that someone like Trump could be on the ballot for the American presidency. It reminds me of when Hulk Hogan (aka Jessie Ventura) became governor of Minnesota in 1999. It made politics a joke, not that that’s anything new in American politics. It seems we have sunk to another all time “low.”
Today is Pentecost, the time when the Spirit arrives, that mysterious Ruah, when Jesus breathes on his disciples so that they can receive his very inspiration. This event is depicted as tongues of fire above the heads of the disciples in our first reading. Fire is the symbol of passion; of being strong spirited. Today we are reminded that the Spirit is with us, helps us to live with deeper faith and dignity. We are meant to be renewed on this day. And perhaps that’s what feels so strange about having to preach about Trump on this very sacred holy day. When I think about Trump, I feel the opposite; sad and dejected, as if the air has been let out of my tires.
On this day, this Pentecost, I think we need to ask, “Have we lost our Spirit in today’s America?” We’ve certainly lost our vision and our sense of truth, let alone our sense of compassion and care for those in need. Some say it’s because the voiceless have had no voice for so long. So how did such a rambunctious figure who spews hatred and racism help the marginalized feel hopeful. How did that happen? How did what we know as true become the very wolf in sheep’s clothing?
I’ve read now more about Trump than I had before this sermon. At one point, I just couldn’t read anymore. His positions are so difficult to pinpoint except for his “wall” that he will have Mexico build for him. One example of how inexact his positions are reads like this: “On people already illegally in the United States, Trump has variously said they should all be deported, that all should be deported but some could return, that only some should be deported, or that the decision should be made after the border has been strengthened.” He supports capital punishment and guns. He believes global warming is a “total hoax.” He has a proposal to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from entering the United States until Congress can determine how to address Islamic terrorism. The core of his rhetoric is anger and fear.
So how are we to respond? I want to be able to feel compassion for Trump, to try to understand where his fear comes from so that I can do as Jesus would do which is to love our enemy. I can’t help but see Trump as my enemy. I don’t speak the same language as Trump. How do I love him? How do I even begin to like him? I so want to be able to pray Trump into the Good Witch or to have a child from the sidelines yell out, “He has no clothes!” just like the Emperor in the fairy tale. Then, he would be revealed as he truly is and we could all get back to normal life without power and money being the main goal—as it has been since the beginning of time. But that’s not love. It’s really not like but it’s honest and human and what I need to admit before allowing the Spirit in.
I met a woman who had lung cancer this week. She is very sad about her dying, especially because of how much she loves her grandkids. She knows that they already have put two and two together. That because of her smoking, she now has cancer. I encouraged her to be gentle with herself; that we are human and have free will. “That’s it,” she said. “That free will. I wish we never had it!” She is right. It’s such a risky thing, that free will. We get to choose how we will respond to the truth, to power, to the lust for money, to trying to love our enemies.
The Spirit is truly that which inspires us. When the Spirit was breathed upon the disciples, they lost their fear and went forth to evangelize, to spread the news of Jesus message, a message that was so unique: love one another, do good to those who hurt you, and yes, love your enemies. This is exactly where the Spirit comes in to make us brave, to inspire us when it seems impossible.
We can do two things: love Trump by praying for him. I’m going to challenge us each week from now until the election to offer a prayer for Trump. Not a sarcastic one, but one that is genuine and intends well, for him to see, hear and act more as a loving person. This is the season for planting; and to hope for what we will reap. Second: I challenge us to be more vocal about our beliefs. Usually, I keep quiet about politics. But now requires risk and evangelizing. I’m not sure how, but I suspect there will be opportunities to do this—at work, with friends and yes, maybe on phone calls with my family.
As we envision the disciples in that room, locked away, safe from the threats of the world, how do we break open the doors and go forth? How do we plant seeds that may bear fruit? How can we be more involved in the process of politics? May the Spirit guide and empower us. When there is a chance to speak, let us speak in a voice that is not angry or vengeful but with a voice that all can hear, that engages others so that we can all hear the breath, the voice of the Spirit. Amen.
Mother’s Day Liturgy 2016
Song: Hail Mary, Gentle Woman
After the Entrance Song, a pitcher of water will be poured into the baptismal font.
May this water remind us all of the waters of our birth which brought us life and the waters of baptism that bring us spiritual life.
Opening Prayer: Let us pray:
Holy and Loving God: You call each of us to be mothers, to co-create, birth and nurture love. You call us to be your own, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or vocation and to be parents to the unwanted, to the disenfranchised, to the motherless. Grace us to touch others gently and with full acceptance as a loving mother does her child that we may grow in our ability to love without condition. Amen.
First Reading: Miriam Therese Winter (eucharist with a small “e”)
“This is my body”
The first person to utter the words we associate with Jesus must have been his mother. For nine months they were one body, Mary and her child. Like any mother, surely she said of the new life taking form within her: this is my body!
She would also have watched her newborn baby nursing at her breast and marveled: his is my body, his is my blood, bone of my bone flesh of my flesh. Mary alone can identify with the physical body of Jesus. To her we owe the embodied presence of Jesus in our world. Amen.
All: Mother God, we thank you for your creative love.
Creative Mother, through all your labors, you bring the light of day and the
beauty of night. Response
Nurturing One, you teach us the joy of love and the healing power of
Divine Parent, you call us forth to become our best selves and empower us
to grow beyond our fears. Response
Eternal Matriarch, you reveal to us our birthright: to be compassionate to all
that is living, embracing our universal family. Response
Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-4
If our life in Christ means anything to you—if love, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness of sympathy can persuade you at all—then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing that would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you, no conceit, but everybody is to be humble: value others over yourselves, each of your thinking of the interests of others before your own.
Gospel Reading: John 17:20-26
“I do not pray for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all may be one, as you, Abba, are in me and I in you. I pray that they may be one is us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them, you in me—so that they may be made perfect in unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them as you have loved me. Abba, I ask that those you gave me may be here with me, so they can see this glory of mine which is your gift to me, because of the love you had for me before the foundation of the world. Righteous One, the world hasn’t known you, but I have; and these people know that you sent me. To them I have revealed your name, and I will continue to reveal it so that the love you have for me may live in them, just as I may live in them.”
As you can tell, our theme is unity. I think all of us want that, we yearn for the day when truly “all are one.” It’s typically what all mother’s want. I can remember my mom saying, “Why can’t you all just get along?” That’s a unity statement, a hope for 8 kids to stop arguing and play nice. Anyone who works for unity has a mothering way about them because unity requires patience, wisdom, gentleness and lots of unconditional love. We as human beings don’t tend towards those behaviors without a lot of work. I invite us to look more deeply at how we can be more mothering today on Mother’s Day.
Our first reading is from Miriam Therese Winter, a modern day prophet, a woman who helps us remember the intimate connection between Jesus and his mother Mary. Miriam reminds us that Jesus was a child, a helpless infant, completely dependent on his mother, dependent on her for his very life, just like all of us were. The image of the Madonna with child is seen in every culture. It is relationship at its most basic, and its most essential. We envision a child with its mother, being physically nourished, first in the womb and then at the breast, enabling the child to grow. But we intuit so much more. Mary’s touch, her voice humming lullabies and then words of encouragement, teaching Jesus, keeping him safe. We have no records, no evidence of this except the amazing outcome of her efforts, a man wise and kind who became his fullest self.
Lately I’ve been giving talks on Emotional Intelligence or EQ; some would say EI but I say EQ because it helps to directly contrast it with IQ. We’ve always thought that it was our IQ that determined our fate, our place in life but that belief is starting to change. Now it’s our EQ that is seen as the main determinant for becoming our fullest selves.
Researchers like Daniel Goleman are finding that in order for us to have a high EQ, we must be able to understand ourselves well through self-awareness. Then, when we are more self-aware, we develop our ability to understand others well. This is EQ, having both good self-awareness and then being very intuitive or adept at sensing what others are feeling. That’s what helps us to be most successful in life.
Goleman talks about research being done at Cornell University where mothers and their infants are observed. One of the researchers, Daniel Stern is fascinated by the small, repeated exchanges that take place between mother and child; he believes that the most basic lessons of emotional life are laid down in these intimate moments. Of all such moments, the most critical are those that let the child know her emotions are met with empathy, accepted and reciprocated in a process Stern calls “attunement.” The mother “matches” the baby’s level of emotion over and over, sending a message about once a minute to stay emotionally connected. Once a minute is a lot. Thus begins a lifelong process of relationship and compassion. So, depending on how attuned your mother was, your EQ develops. And it’s not as if it’s an over-and-done process. If your mom wasn’t so “attuned” you will have others in your life who help develop your EQ—good teachers, supervisors, partners, and friends. So I believe that EQ is the basis of compassion, of being able to help build unity.
(If you’re interested, you can google EQ quiz and test your level of EQ. It’s a fascinating test that gives clues as to how to do better and improve your EQ.)
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, is encouraging the people, these new Christian communities, to be like-minded, to be united in their convictions so that true unity of purpose is achieved. There is deep intention here, his desire that, instead of quibbling over differences they focus on what they have in common.
In John’s gospel, Jesus is praying for unity, that all may be one. I love that he prays aloud, for once, so that his disciples can appreciate what he holds in his heart. It’s a profound gospel passage, one that we should really examine and reflect on because it shows the intimate relationship of Jesus with His creator God. He prays not just for his disciples but for all the “others” who will be shown Jesus through them, that ripple effect of evangelization. That’s us in a long line of succession, We are meant to “pass it on.” We are the new messengers. It is our way of being in relationship with others that will either convey Jesus’ care and compassion or not. That’s quite a huge responsibility. It’s vital to unity. Without us, the message of Jesus, love for all, unity of all cannot be heard or seen or felt.
All of us had a mother. Some of our moms were better at attunement than others. Some of us are still learning how to nurture, how to be in relationship to others. So too we are still learning how to live the message of Jesus, that of compassion and unconditional love. Sadly, the message has gotten very twisted and distorted. Our human tendencies to judge and categorize has interfered with the message of Christ.
On the phone with my mom last week, she was saying that she and dad had heard a priest talk about the fact that there are some good Muslims. “That’s new for dad and me,” she said. And I wish I would’ve responded, “But you were the one who taught me to love all people, mom. Don’t you remember?” How has that message gotten lost? Fear can cloud many minds and cause them to judge rather than love first. Now that we have Donald Trump nearing the White House, I am amazed that Christian men and women support him, even though his “favorite” Bible verse is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Hmmm, seems like someone redeemed that very phrase and told us to do differently. Still, Christians will support Trump and we will try to remember how to be Christian.
So today we honor mothers, mothers sometimes in the bodies of men and boys or Muslims and Unitarians and atheists, all those who have a high EQ and respond out of compassion. May we be mindful of our need to move towards unity. It was Jesus’ deepest prayer, his greatest hope. And mothers can help pave the way—even if those mothers are teachers or bus drivers or bartenders—who are aware of the lesson of love, of compassion. When we areattuned to the needs of those around us, our EQ is at its best and the hope for unity becomes a bit more realized in our world. Happy Mother’s Day. Amen.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
First Reading: Acts 16:9-15
16:9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.
On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.
When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.
67:1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
67:2 that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
67:5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
67:6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
67:7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.
Second Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
Its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Gospel Reading: John 14:23-29
Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Kathy Kelly, peace maker, delivered a homily.
Because Daniel Berrigan died on Sat. April 30, we read the following for our Eucharistic Meditation
Communion Meditation: Advent Credo by Daniel Berrigan (born 1921)
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.
From Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, by Daniel Berrigan, S.J. Orbis Books, 2004.
April 24, 2016
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 14:21-27, Revelations 21: 1-5, John 13: 31-33, 34-35
In today’s Gospel reading, the theme of love continues to demonstrate the relationship between God and us. Jesus begins by explaining God’s glorification. To glorify someone is to see the great good in them, to love them for that good, and to make that great good known to others. Now this is tricky, but it goes like this. God recognizes the good in Jesus, who is God the Son of Man. The good is all the more evident in the sacrifice Jesus is about to make for us. Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus. Because Jesus is acting out of love for the supreme good, God is glorified in his actions. Jesus is also glorified by God because he is revealing to the world by his actions the mercy and love of God. Jesus is simultaneously glorifying God by being the instrument of God’s mercy and love by means of his being and is glorified at the same time by God. This Gospel notes a shift then between the relationships of God to Jesus to the relationship among the followers of Christ—it is the extension of the relationship among the divine persons of God to the relationship between Christ and us and the relationship that should exist among all of us. Jesus has made the love that exists among the persons of the Trinity to be the love that now exists between Jesus and his followers. We are to see the greater good in our relationships with others and among ourselves. Jesus commands us to make love the rule of law among ourselves—we are to see the great good in our fellow humans, and that good is that they are created in the image of God and saved and sanctified by Christ. We are to love everyone for that good which is in them—to will their good to the point of our own sacrifice if necessary.
Doctrine: Love one another “as I have loved you” Christ is “our model of holiness,” whom we should imitate. The one new commandment we are to obey is love. To love is to will the good of the other through one’s actions, even to the point of sacrifice. It is the gift of self to the other. Love is the essence of every moral law: total love of God, love of neighbor as oneself, the Ten Commandments, the laws of the Church. It is even what is at the basis of every just civil law.
Practical application: How do we live love? How do we make a sincere gift of self to those around us? The answer is imitation of Christ. We learn many, many things by direct imitation, that is, by observing another and doing the same. Sometimes the one we imitate helps us by showing us and explaining things. We have all this when it comes to imitating Christ.
We, as disciples of Jesus, have continually fallen far short in our love for one another as well as in our love for those outside the community of faith. Theological and ethical arguments often descend into personal attacks and name-calling; personal interests often trump the common good of the community; those in need of compassion find judgment instead. Jesus could not be clearer: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts—acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.
I know that there are those who believe that this world is past the point of redemption. Maybe it is. But that is not for you and me to decide. God is the one who began life, and God is the one who will close it. In the meantime, we who have decided to follow Jesus have been given a commandment to carry on in love.
Whenever people who were suffering or in need came to Jesus, Jesus never said, "It is too late. You are not worth saving." Always, Jesus healed them. All they had to do was want to be healed and believe that God wants the world to be healed. If the whole world will not be healed, God still wants whoever will to respond to God's love and find life instead of death.
You and I, who look to Jesus, must allow ourselves to be the instruments of God's grace. Jesus demands that we do more than simply save ourselves. Jesus commanded that we do more. Jesus commanded that we not surrender as long as we live on earth. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to love even our enemies. We have a commandment—a mission. This earth we live in may be corrupt and filled with the poisons that people pour on it. But it also contains the very goodness with which God created it. It is the only life we know.
Let us work with God on the side of the goodness that God created, rather than write off the world and wait for the end and let the devil take what follows. To love is what Jesus clearly asked us to do. Soon enough, the end will come. Let us not wish for it, but be a working part of the new heaven that Jesus had brought already down upon this earth. After all, we are not yet part of the dead, but, by the grace of God, part of the living.
And while the passage that we read today trips off the tongue in a kind of benign
and comfortable way, “Love one another as I have loved you,” it is a commandment that is easier said than done; easier heard than fulfilled. In fact, I am convinced that it is not only difficult for us to love one another; it was never easy for Jesus to love his disciples. I think it was a trial at times. I think that it was hard for Jesus to love the disciples, not easy. As hard for him as it was for them to love one another. What was hard for him was to see the potential, the possibility of what they might be, and to know that they fell so short. I think it was hard because he knew how much depended on them, and how difficult it would be for them to live up to that. And it was hard because he knew how given to pettiness and jealousy and bullheadedness and sin that they were prone to be, and how far short they fell from the mark.
The disciples were an unlikely lot, several fishermen, a tax collector, a crook who
was the treasurer, a member of a subversive political party, a pair of twins; they didn’t necessarily have a lot in common these folks except for, of course, Jesus, which is why they were like us—basically good, but flawed.
There had been indications all along that the choice of these people was not
without its challenges. The gospels are replete with stories of the disciples’ pettiness, their lack of faith, their inability to pick up the mantle and cast out demons or perform miracles, their backbiting, their jockeying for position. Even Peter couldn’t accept Jesus’ repeated explanation that the Son of Man must, suffer and die, nor could he accept the inclusion of women as Jesus’ disciples. And so he tried to dissuade Jesus from his course of action, which frustrated Jesus no end; enough so that he rebuked Peter, called him Satan, and told him to get out of his way.
The inner circle of James and John, were diminished by the fact that their mother
wanted to get advance seating arrangements for them at the heavenly banquet, a move that left the other disciples jealous and bickering among themselves.
In fact, the words of loving one another come out of Jesus’ mouth immediately following Judas’ departure from the upper room. “Do quickly what you have to do,” Jesus tells Judas, and Judas took the bread from Jesus’ hand, and ran out into the darkness of the night to find his way to the council where they awaited his arrival. The other end of this teaching on love which begins with Judas’ betrayal is Peter’s denial. Jesus no sooner finishes his words to his disciples than they leave the upper room together, making their way to the garden where he is arrested and then stands trial before the high priest. And as he does Peter denies that he even knows Jesus.
Wow, that’s really some kind of love, isn’t it.
But in spite of all that, Jesus loved them. He loved them because he believed that
together they were a sum that was greater than its parts. That together they were better than they were alone. That maybe, just maybe, they might rise above their pettiness and bickering and limitations and achieve something that had the love of God in it. Something that had his love in it and in so doing, they might just love one another.
Somehow it helps me to think that it wasn’t easy for Jesus to love his disciples,
that he had to work at it the way I have to work at it, because all too often I get
discouraged by the frailty and brokenness and painful inhumanity of those whom God has created. It’s easy to blame the victim, to ignore the plight of others, to walk away from the situation. After all, others are not from my group; they’re not my kind—I wouldn’t normally associate with those kinds of people. And then I think that God has and is. That’s the real difference—God has. God has hopes and dreams for all of us. God wants more for us than we have dared to think possible for ourselves. And more importantly, God will not give up on us—God even wants us to love one another as God loves each of us. How has God loved us? Enough to die for us, enough to give his life for our sake; enough to put up with us. If Jesus could love the disciples, in spite of all their painful flaws and disgusting humanity, then we can surely love each other in the same way, in spite of all our flaws.
But then along comes this story of Jesus bookended by betrayal that expresses
Jesus’ best and fondest hope for us, that we love one another as he has loved us. He
thinks we can do it. And it helps me to know that it wasn’t easy, even for him, because it isn’t easy for us. Love one another as I have loved you, he urged us. As I have loved you. With patience, forgiveness, forbearance, peace of spirit, and a willingness to take the bad with the good.
Maybe Jesus had to tell us to do this because on our own we might not try. We
might give up. But for his sake we might attempt it—loving one another.
And who knows, maybe Jesus is right. If we do so, perhaps everyone will know that we are disciples. It’s about as sure a sign as there can be… that we love one another as God has loved us.
I remember this sign or billboard I saw once. It said: “If they were putting Christians on trial would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
What can we do to show our discipleship, to show we are Christians—followers of Christ. How do we serve each other as Christ commanded? Here are some examples that the Bible gives us, and they don’t cost a thing.
Accept others without judgment -- Esteem others [highly regard] no matter their circumstances in life -- Encourage others to be their fullest selves-- Show true empathy to and for others-- Serve one another by showing deference in matters of liberty--Be kind to others-- Speak the truth to others—be honest-- Show compassion toward others
Forgive others-- Comfort others with the hope of Christ-- Live in peace and harmony with others--See and seek the good in others--Pray for others—especially for their success-- Be patient with others-- Refuse to be resentful or hold grudges--Volunteer to help--Fight injustice and discrimination when you see it, and as much more as your imagination will allow because the love Jesus speaks about comes from the spirit and is a gift to us—we only need to express this love by what we do and how we see the world. With the grace of God, we can do it.
Let me leave you with these words from Mother Teresa:
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”
Funeral Mass for Estela Bern
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Opening Song: "Be Not Afraid" (Dufford) # 608
First Reading: Ruth 1: 11, 14-18
But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband.” At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 100
We are God’s people, the sheep of God’s pasture.
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:28, 30-32
Do something useful with your hands, so you can have something to share with the needy. Be on your guard against foul talk. Say only what will give grace to your listeners. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, all rage and anger, all harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving just as God has forgiven you in Christ.
Gospel Reading: Luke 10:30-37
An expert on the Law stood up to put Jesus to the test and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?”
Jesus answered, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
The expert on the Law replied: “You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you’ll live.”
But the expert on the Law, seeking self-justification, pressed Jesus further: “And just who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “There was a traveler going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, who fell prey to robbers. The traveler was beaten, stripped naked, and left half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road; the priest saw the traveler lying beside the road, but passed by on the other side. Likewise, there was a Levite who came the same way; this one, too, saw the afflicted traveler and passed by on the other.
But a Samaritan, who was taking the same road, also came upon the traveler and, filled with compassion, approached the traveler and dressed the wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then the Samaritan put the wounded person on a donkey, went straight to an inn and there took care of the injured one. The next day the Samaritan took out two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper with the request, ‘Look after this person, and if there is any further expense, I’ll repay you on the way back.’
“Which of these three, in our opinion, was the neighbor to the traveler who fell in with the robbers?” The answer came, “The one who showed compassion.” Jesus replied, “Then go and do the same.”
Did you see the stars last night? There was a bright moon too. And it was maybe 70 degrees--a perfect spring night. The kind that makes you ponder some of the mysteries of life. Estela means star so she was very much present too.
So, what is the purpose of a star? Some would say, “nothing.” There is no purpose. Others could get very scientific, “It’s a fixed luminous point in the night sky that reminds us of how the world began.” I tried googling the question and found this:
“To illuminate what was and is our present time continuum. You look up and wonder how far back in time you are going. The light that we see from their small and distant glimmer is as old as our galaxy. The stars are beautiful giants that are one million times brighter than our very own small star we call the sun. Stars are there for a purpose and for what reason is yet to be guessed by one of us in this small but wonderful planet we call earth. Yet we look up and praise the wonderful and stupendous sky with its billions of giants. I can only realize that in our small world and our fragile existence we are actually staring at the face of God.”
Pretty good, right? Staring at the face of God. Stars help to reflect the majesty of God and creation. We wish upon a star to help encourage us and give us hope. When someone dies, we often look up to the stars to connect, to remember and to fix our longing on what we can never fully understand. Stars represent mystery, the unknown and the eternal. Perhaps, that is their purpose.
Estela was all that. She was our quiet sage who would sit in her wheelchair here and listen. At the kiss of peace, we would all take turns bending over to give her a hug or a kiss on her cheek. The smile on her face was priceless. She always said, “Thank you so much,” with just a touch of her native Spanish. Little did we know the powerhouse she was under all that charm.
I last saw Estela on Palm Sunday. She was staying at the Mercy Hospice Unit. I got a call from the chaplain who said that Estela told her that I was her pastor. When I arrived, she was in bed. She appeared to be much more frail than when I had last seen her but no less pleased to see me. She smiled and graciously nodded, her usual acknowledgement of me. I gave her some palm branches and stayed for a short time.
Today’s readings were chosen specifically for Estela. Each of them speaks of her and what she valued. In our first reading, we hear the familiar story of Ruth who chooses to stay with Naomi. She would be a foreigner in a strange land but that was less important than her loyalty to her mother-in-law, her devotion to stay and provide support.
Estela knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. She was born in Mexico but came to the United States to become a nurse, graduating in 1946. Like the light from a star, she was way ahead of her time—a woman who knew the value of education. She wanted to develop her skills to help others, stranger or kin, she was devoted to being of service and taught this to her children and grandchildren. It’s no wonder they are the magnificent people they are.
In Ephesians, our second reading, Paul is speaking to a new Christian community, encouraging them in both doctrine and action. There are many “commands” or instructions that are worthy for us all to consider, being kind and compassionate, not letting anger get in the way of forgiveness. Estela’s favorite advice was to make stars out of scars. So simple and yet so profound. When we are wounded, it is natural to build our own defense, to not reach out for fear of further harm. Estela and Paul are insisting that that is not the way of Christ. With God’s grace, we are encouraged to risk, to have courage so that, not only may we heal, but that we transform our pain into something beautiful, something inspiring and full of light.
I do not know all of Estela’s pain in life. But we were able to witness her courage in the face of chronic illness, when aging becomes its own burden. She remained strong even in the face of weakness, cautious at times but never resigned. That’s star-making kind of stuff.
Finally, we hear the story of the Good Samaritan. The one least likely to offer help, the one who others despise and judge as unworthy, the Samaritan, is the hero. He helps without question. And not just a little. He offers compassion to the full extent of his ability. His example is a challenge to us all, to have the courage to care, regardless of expectations.
Estela had that courage, that sense of what is right. She fostered the virtue of being neighborly to all people. Maybe that’s why she fit in at Full Circle so well. Even in her late 90’s, she had no trouble accepting the Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement. My own parents are in their 80’s and they are much less generative, unable to accept my call. But not Estela. She has been fully supportive of women’s rights, perhaps because she herself experienced racism and sexism. With Estela, I never felt judged or questioned. Rather, her kindness and warmth were evident. The fact that she wanted me to do her funeral is a privilege beyond words. Hers is our first funeral here. We’ve had baptisms, confirmations and even a wedding. Now, it seems fitting that Estela brings us full circle. She is our matriarch. The mother of our fledgling little church.
May we honor her best by committing ourselves to her call—to make this world a better place through service, education and faith, faith that comes alive through our care of others: those who are in need, those who are different, those who we least expect to teach us compassion.
Through Estela’s life, we are reminded of the power of love; that God wants to use us as her hands and feet, her voice and her compassion. Just as the monarch butterflies of her homeland flutter forth from their cocoons each and every year to remind us of resurrection and rebirth, may Estela’s life ever remind us of God’s desire for community through service. May we remember Estela as our special star who very much reflected the face of God. Amen.
I now invite her family to come forward to write her name in the Book of Life.
Offertory Song: "The Servant Song" (Gillard) # 669
Communion Song: "You Are Mine" (Haas) # 649
Communion Meditation: At Peace BY AMADO NERVO
(Creator of himself, of his destiny.)
Very near my sunset, I bless you,
Life because you never gave me neither unfilled hope nor unfair work,
nor undeserved sorrow.
Because I see at the end of my rough way
that I was the architect of my own destiny
and if I extracted the sweetness or the bitterness of things
it was because I put the sweetness or the bitterness in them
when I planted rose bushes
I always harvested roses
Certainly, winter is going to follow my youth
But you didn’t tell me that May was eternal
I found without a doubt long my nights of pain
But you didn’t promise me only good nights
And in exchange I had some peaceful ones
I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face
Life, you owe me nothing,
Life, we are at peace!
(Written on March 20, 1915.)
Closing Song: "On Eagle's Wings" (Joncas) # 611
Second Sunday of Easter
April 3, 2016
First Reading: Acts 5:12-29
12Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
Second Reading: Revelation 1:9-13, 17-19
9I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet11saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” 12Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.
17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.
Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
As many of you know, my daughter-in-law, Sonia, is now in Humjibre, Ghana. It’s a small village of about 3,000 people. She is the Health Education Coordinator for a non-profit that is helping mothers during their pregnancy and then stays with them until the child is two years old. It’s her way of saving the world, or so she thought. I spoke with her this week, because I can simply call her right up, amazing. She said she was having doubts about her work there. Even in a place so clearly in need, where she thought she would be able to put her idealism into practice, she is frustrated. First it is sweltering hot, all the time. It averages 95 degrees and she sweats through her clothes every single day. This time of year, avocados are in season which sounds wonderful until you eat them every single day for every meal. Mangos will soon be in season. Again, every day every meal. Even something as delicious as mangos could lose its thrill if you had to eat it all the time. She said that the flies are horrible; so persistent. Sonia sleeps under a mosquito net at night and often the power goes out so the one fan they have to move the air stops working. You get the idea. Reality has set in and she is longing for the basics of America. She said, “Maybe Matt and I will find a small house all by itself and I’ll learn how to make cheese and we can live happily ever after.” It's a pleasant fantasy for now but, she is concerned that eventually she would grow weary of that as well. Doubt has led her to fully reconsider what it is she wants to do with her life.
Today we have Thomas who had his doubts about the whole resurrection thing. Every Sunday after Easter we hear about Doubting Thomas. We shine the light on the dark side of being human, after we have just celebrated the light. In our daily conversations, we even use the expression, “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas” to caution anyone who would question or doubt. Poor Thomas. He gets such a bad rap when really he’s probably the most honest of all the disciples. It’s not like they didn’t have doubts! After all, they were still locked in the upper room when Jesus came back to see Thomas. But it’s always easier to scapegoat someone that to admit to our own fears, right?
Thomas was the same disciple earlier who had the courage to ask Jesus to explain himself when he said, “In my father’s house are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you and if I go there, I will come back to take you to be with me.” I read this often at the bedside of a dying patient to help reassure the family that there is a “place”, an afterlife to where we will go after we die. But Thomas didn’t get it. He said, “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus replies, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Not that that made it much more clear but at least Thomas had more clarification (instead of just assuming).
Here he is again, after all hope has been dashed, trying to understand. And the amazing thing is, his doubt, his questioning causes Jesus to come back again, just for him. Jesus had already seen the other disciples so he could have just figured that that was enough. But for Thomas, Jesus reappears. He comes through the locked doors because nothing can stop him now—no barriers, no locks. And Jesus allows Thomas to probe his wounds. This is perhaps the most fascinating part of Thomas’ request—that he be able to put his finger in Jesus wounds. Thomas wants to fully appreciate what Jesus endured. That’s the power of doubt. It moved Thomas to embrace his fears and to be fully in the horror of what had happened. Yes, dead and alive—the two are now one in Jesus.
Notice that Jesus shames Thomas. He admonishes him for having to see in order to believe. All of us initially, when we are young in our faith need to see something that makes us believe. For me, it was having my Matthew on Easter morning. That did it! But, the more we grow spiritually, the less external proof we need. In fact, physical proof can become a bit hokey. My mom does novenas (probably for me) and often she will get a yellow rose on the last day. Granted, we all know yellow roses are her favorite so is it a miracle or just one of us being nice?
As adults, most of us come to a quiet certitude—that it’s enough to believe because we have lived a life of challenge and our faith has sustained us. Prayer has now become less of a “gimme this” and more about gratitude and trust.
Thomas had fears and doubts, just like his friends. He was desperate to understand. Ultimately he needed what all of us need in times of distress or despair, a companion to comfort and help guide us when the way seems overwhelming or dangerous. Thomas needed the Jesus he loved to show him that he was fully and completely back with them as they began their new way of life. With Jesus at his side, Thomas became an evangelizer to India and worked tirelessly to spread the good news. That’s why I’d like to rename Thomas. Instead of Doubting Thomas, I think he should be called Deliberate Thomas. Because of his intention to understand, because he was deliberate, he asked and received answers that empowered him and everyone else.
Deliberate Thomas’s response to Jesus, once he understood, was “My Lord and my God!” He was the first to claim Jesus as both Lord and God. Thomas had come to a deep appreciation of the resurrection because of his questions. May we be blessed to be just as deliberate.
Have you had doubts that led you to a deeper understanding? How was God at work in the process?
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,
from the worst that our world can do:
from hells of corruption and cruelty,
from violence and terror and hate,
from rape and torture and war,
from hunger and disease and squalor,
torn and terribly scarred
yet walking among us still,
who will touch us in
who will hold us in
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
Easter Sunday 2016
First Reading: Acts 10:34,37-43
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality—rather that any person of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life,appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Gospel Reading: John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Meanwhile, Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Today’s gospel holds the key for who we are today. Each of us has been transformed by its words, by the acts of two people in relationship to each other. Without Mary Magdalene, we might never have come to fully appreciate who Jesus was. Today our alleluia is for the her-story (instead of his-story) and for her faithfulness as a seeker.
Like most of us, Mary’s journey began with questions. Who is this Jesus? What is he teaching? And now at the tomb, Why did he die? Mary’s grief is what has motivated her to keep searching. Where is Jesus now? Who has taken his body? The first time, she ran to tell Peter and the disciples. They came back and found the tomb empty as well. But they left without answers. Mary stays. Afterall, where else is she to go? Her world has been turned upside-down. She know that she must still seek.
Last week, I met a patient who was very leery of me. When I introduced myself as one of the chaplains, he said, “Oh, so you’re here to save me.” I burst out laughing. Mostly because no one has ever said something so direct in response to me before and because that would be the last thing on my mind in a visit with a patient. Over time he came to trust that I really had no agenda except to walk with him as he explored his situation and his beliefs. On one visit, I said, “You are a seeker!” He wasn’t sure how to take this so I said, “We should all be seekers.” As it turned out he had a deep belief in God, even if he couldn’t exactly name who that God was.
Most all human beings are seekers. We have this inner longing to understand, to discover, to find meaning in our lives. We are seekers at our core. How much we respond to that urge varies for all of us. Some of us have found answers, answers that later in life, we needed to revise or develop. That’s part of the spiritual journey. What’s important is that we keep asking questions, that we continue to seek to discover answers that can change our lives.
Mary Magdalene was certainly a seeker. Otherwise she may have heard Jesus, shrugged and walked away. What we know is that she stayed and learned from Jesus. She stayed through his ministry, and through his suffering and death. She stayed at the tomb when Peter and the other disciples left and went back home, unclear what the empty tomb meant. And that’s where our reading ends today for the entire Catholic church. The disciples walk away. What a horrible ending.
The next seven verses in John Chapter 20 are the most important part of our Easter tradition. The key word which begins these verses is “meanwhile.” Meanwhile Mary is still at the tomb. She cannot leave. This is where her beloved Rabbi last was—dead yes, but his body is her last connection. And so she lingers, unable to walk away. At times, we cannot move forward until we understand what has happened and its meaning for us.
Every Easter, we as Full Circle, will read John’s gospel Chapter 20 versus 1-18. We will NOT stop at verse 11. We will hear the story of a woman who was in such grief that she couldn’t bear to leave the tomb. Her grief, her deep desire to seek Jesus,is what caused her to be alone, in a place where Jesus would grant her the unique privilege of being the one who would see and hear him, the resurrected Jesus, before anyone else.
These verses where Mary suddenly becomes aware of Jesus now alive catapults the Christian faith to radical change. The world will never be the same. Jesus didn’t appear to the chief priest or to Herod, not even to Peter. Instead, he appeared to a woman, to the one person who had stayed with him throughout his entire life, even risking death because of her great love for him.
Jesus’s first question after his resurrection, is “Why are you weeping?” It’s a very simple question. Then, he asks Mary who she is looking for. Truly, Jesus already knows the answer to both of these questions. Which makes them all the more mysterious and compelling. They draw us in, which may well be their very intention.
Mary Magdalene is mentioned 14 times in the Bible, more than any other woman. And she appears to be independent, with no domestic responsibilities. This is either because she is very wealthy or very poor. When she is with other women, Mary’s name always comes first, meaning that she was the most important—except when she is with Jesus’s mother. We are to notice this, even if the Church does not. A woman receives the good news of the resurrection and is told to “go tell the others.” Mary Magdalene is commissioned by Jesus himself to evangelize this radical good news. Jesus has overcome death. Alleluia.
Perhaps the reason why Jesus asked those two questions of Mary before he reveals himself is to establish his care and concern for her and to remind us as readers and as fellow seekers that relationship is everything in the Christian faith. He needed to connect with Mary first. Over and over, Jesus does that which maintains or reestablishes relationship—it’s that essential to his life and its meaning.
My patient who thought I was going to save him, eventually came to trust me enough to share some of his beliefs. When I asked about what he believed about an afterlife he said, “As long as someone loves you, you exist.” It was a powerful statement of relationship, one that very much fits in our Christian faith. I told him how much that statement made me respect him. He couldn’t understand that but I think he was pleased by this.
Finally, when Jesus asked Mary, “Who are you looking for?” it may well be a question for us today. Who are we looking for? Who will satisfy our seeking? Who is our authority for how we live life? Who do we claim as our guide, our teacher? Is Jesus enough for us?
In the gospel, when Jesus is revealed to Mary, she is stunned. All she can say is, Rabboni! Teacher! And she rushes to embrace him. But He cannot accept her embrace. He is no longer reliant on the physical and wanted Mary to recognize this. We who so need the tangible, we can learn to trust the intangible too.
Mary’s joy is not diminished by this request. Everything is different now. She goes to fulfill Jesus’s request to “tell the others.” Unlike the disciples who simply go back to where they were staying, Mary has a powerful mission—to report what she has seen and heard. Who would believe her? How could they not believe her? It is a story that we are still trying to embrace and fully appreciate today. Jesus is risen.
May this Easter be our time to hear the good news and reclaim its meaning for us. Jesus is the one we are looking for. Let us reclaim our choice as followers of Jesus. Jesus is who we seek for answers, the answer to life beyond death. We need never despair again. No matter what life brings us, we turn to Jesus for guidance and hope, hope eternal. Happy Easter.
Easter Meditation 2016 by Richard Rohr
Christ Crucified is all of the hidden, private, tragic pain of history made public and given over to God. Christ Resurrected is all of that private, ungrieved, unnoted suffering received, loved, and transformed by an All-Caring God. How else could we believe in God at all? How else could we have any kind of cosmic hope? How else would we not die of sadness for what humanity has done to itself and to one another?
Jesus is the blueprint, the plan, the pattern revealed in one body and moment of history to reveal the meaning of all of history and each of our lives. The cross is the banner of what we do to one another and to God. The resurrection is the banner of what God does to us in return.
Easter is the announcement of God’s perfect and final victory.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Today’s liturgy really rushes this day past us. Instead of savoring Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem as a moment of victory, the entire Passion is read for our Gospel. Yes, Jesus will be crucified in six days, but we should not miss that this day marks the beginning of Jesus’ ultimate victory over death—the ultimate act of our salvation. Today is the first of eight days that changed the world—today marks the start of the ending to our beginning.
Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is in all four Gospels in various forms. John notes that the people marvel at the raising of Lazarus from the dead and crowd around Jesus. In Luke, the Pharisees ask Jesus to quiet the crowd, and Jesus responds that even if he did, the stones would cry out! Mark provides a subdued entry with little fanfare or attention but notes that Jesus enters on a donkey. Finally, Matthew relates the enacting of the prophecy by Zachariah, “Rejoice in heart and soul….Shout with gladness daughter of Jerusalem! Look! Your ruler comes to you: victorious and triumphant, humble, riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. And the Gospels reveal that the entire city was stirred up.
Up until this day, Jesus stayed out of the limelight. He has kept a low profile—urging his followers to tell no one. Today, the time has come for Jesus to be recognized for who he is and for why he had come—for what he was to fulfill and the task he wanted his followers to accomplish after him. Jesus enters Jerusalem to finally announce himself as the Messiah—the promised savior. He proclaims himself to be a different kind of ruler for the people, establishing a kindom of peace and love and non-violence, and not what the crowd expected. By coming to Jerusalem, Jesus is compelling people to make up their minds—once and for all—about God and God’s kindom.
Here are the events of Palm Sunday
The night before, Jesus dined with Simon the leper, reported by Luke to be a Pharisee, in Bethany. A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? 9 It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” 10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me, Jesus replies, in preparing him for his burial.”
Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, 11 for on account of him many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem were going away and believing in Jesus.
Now when they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 telling them, “Go to the village ahead of you. Right away you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me—that is, the reading we heard before mass for the blessing of the palms.
Later it is reported
As Jesus approached Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, he wept over the city saying, “If you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will demolish you – you and your children within your walls – and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The crowds shout before him, proclaiming him as the Messiah, shouting hosanna [save us] and declaring him a king in the line of David. And Jesus accepts their acclamation—he does not deny the title. In fact, when told to keep his followers quiet, Jesus confirms their acclimation explaining that if he could quiet them it would be to no avail because the very stones would shout out the news.
12 Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!” 14 The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.
The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and they considered how they could assassinate him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed by his teaching. 19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Then we have the passion reading from today’s gospel—the horrible events to come. But even there on the cross, Jesus will make a statement of victory and triumph. Jesus cries out in a loud voice: “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani!” In English, this is usually translated to mean “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Generally, this is phrased as a question and is thought to mean the abandonment of God. In Aramaic, however, this is not a question but a declaration: “O God! O God! To what (a purpose) You have kept me! Or “To what a purpose you have left me.” And left does not mean to abandoned, but it means spared to fulfill an end or a destiny. This is a shout of triumph. A shout saying, “I have accomplished it!” [Like the phrase, “it is finished in other gospel accounts]. This translation tells us that this was Jesus’ destiny—to suffer and die for us and to rise from the dead in victory as the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Let us savor the victory of Jesus the Christ over sin. We should celebrate this day as disciples who continue to follow Jesus in spite of risk, anxiety, uncertainty and fear.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Fifth Sunday of Lent
The Woman Caught in Adultery
First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,21the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Second Reading: Philippians 3:8-14
8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Reading: John 8:1-11
While Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Sex is a powerful force. Many of us will do a lot to get it. Most of us do it within the confines of the law and marriage, but there is story after story about people who are willing to cross the line for sex. Adultery is one of the major causes of divorce. It’s a betrayal of trust; one of the most difficult to forgive.
In today’s gospel, we have two people who were willing to cross the line. Both would have been very familiar with the penalty for such an act. Death by stoning. In Leviticus 20:10, it states that “If any man commit adultery with the wife of another and defile his neighbor’s wife let them be put the death, both the adulterer and the adulteress.” That’s a strong penalty. Death by stoning. It was how society worked then. It’s important to understand it from a historical perspective.
In the time of Jesus, the law concerning adultery was very much based on the idea that a wife was her husband’s property. If another man had sex with a married woman, he had violated his neighbor’s property. It was stealing, theft, clear and simple. So it is that in some parts of Africa the seducer (man) is punished with the loss of one or both hands, as one who has committed a robbery against the husband. The woman is also punished, often by bodily mutilation by her husband so that she will be prevented from being a temptation to other men. Sanctioned violence against women has been perpetuated for generations.
The irony is that this gospel story has always been known as the woman caught in adultery. But if she was caught in the act, there had to be another person. The act involves two people, not one. What happened when the woman was caught? Did the man get away? Was he allowed to escape? There seems to be no mention of him whatsoever. If a stoning was going to happen, where was the man? Why would this woman be made to pay for the adultery alone? Did people know the man and want to protect him? No one seems to be questioning these things—except Jesus.
Jesus fully appreciates how the Pharisees believe that this is an open and shut case. They’ve been wanting to find a way to trick him, to embarrass him and they believe this is it. And the crowd wants vengeance; they too feel fully justified in stoning this woman. It is their law, their right. Everyone may have already had stones in their hands. Jesus is also aware of all that is happening behind the scenes. He knows that there are many unanswered questions. Jesus sees the unspoken dynamics, and he almost always takes the side of the victim.
Jesus knows he is being trapped. It’s what his actions are all about. His drawing on the ground bought him some much needed time to configure the words, to find a way to help open the Pharisees’ eyes to the broader picture. By not looking at them, Jesus was holding up a mirror for them all, everyone gathered, to examine their own consciences. Rather than pointing the finger at them, something that would have simply elevated their anger, Jesus invited them to do it for themselves.
If they were free from guilt, they could throw the first stone. What a brilliant way to turn this situation inside out. Instead of falling into their trap, Jesus steps outside the usual way of thinking and turns it upside-down. Both the Pharisees and the crowd had to be infuriated and may have wanted to use the stones against Jesus. We can’t stand it when someone calls our bluff. Suddenly the public shaming is focused on those who are meant to keep the law. Instead of using the woman for public shaming and scapegoating, Jesus was enabling public ownership of them all as sinners. He created a way of forcing them to admit their own wrongdoing without any words being spoken in exchange. This is what sets Jesus apart. His wisdom, his brilliance in finding a way to bring about change without raising a finger. In fact, his finger was doodling in the dirt—allowing his mind and heart to be open to God’s grace.
We must take notice—Jesus responds with calm, with quiet. This story is meant for each of us. Each of us has our own guilt to keep us from pointing the finger. But it is extremely difficult, especially in these political times, not to point a finger to those who want to call forth our worst selves. The CNN reports on Friday were alarming. Riots are breaking out. The extremes of individualism vs. social concern are clashing. How are we to respond?
First we must be certain that we are not casting stones; that is to participate in the very system that causes violence and power seeking. Second, we must allow love to guide us, even when we see hate all around. We cannot strike out. We cannot be as proud and as angry as the mobs that are causing such violence. Our doodling in the dirt might come in the form of using our laptops to write to our congress men and women. Or signing up for a peace rally (which is now happening every Friday at 4:30pm on the Pentacrest) or clicking on the link I sent you all to get a bumper sticker that reads, “Love Trumps Hate.”
And we may have to go one step further by talking about politics in calm voices with those who disagree with us. If Trump becomes the Republican nominee, we need to be very concerned. And there’s no reason to think it can’t happen. Not anymore. The Pharisees are alive and well and they believe they are in the right. They are using the very same tactics that Jesus called into question—blaming, scapegoating, hatred.
Remember, the woman caught in adultery knows she is guilty. And she knows the consequences of her actions. When Jesus asks her if anyone has condemned her, she says “No one sir.” Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you”. He has no need to judge her—or to punish her. Instead, he instructs her to sin no more. And I would imagine this was a conversion experience for her—having her life saved by a man.
Mary Demuth, a Christian author wrote, In this story, Jesus Christ didn't overturn the Law. Instead, He re-established righteousness on the basis of grace. With grace at work in our lives, so much is possible. First, we can begin by removing stones—the weapons that are used to promote violence and hatred. What stones are perpetuating anger and resentment in our own lives? What stones keep our hearts reluctant to forgive? Grace can help us soften our grip so we can eventually release these stones.
In our first reading, Isaiah speaks God’s words, “I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” That something new is God’s grace abounding in us and around us and through us. Demuth goes on to say that, Grace ushers in forgiveness, but it also empowers us to walk in a new way. Holiness, then, is built on the experience of grace, not on the fear of the Law. Jesus is in the business of rescuing and releasing us, while at the same time calling our sin for what it is: self-centeredness.
And so we are invited to acknowledge our tendency to think of ourselves first and foremost and instead to move in the hope of what is possible with God’s grace. We can move beyond passivity and complacency and be empowered to help change the political system and our future. Let us hope that this “new thing” can be our conscious efforts to forgive, to drop our stones and to help co-create a whole new world, with God’s grace. Amen.
History Is on an Inevitable Course
Sunday, March 13, 2016
As I shared last week, Paul believed that history and all of creation are headed toward a radical union, which he called pleroma, "the fullness" (Colossians 1:19, Ephesians 1:10). But the journey is presented as slow and grueling, as you can sense in his ecstatic and paramount writing in Romans 8:18-39. Read this passage, beautifully paraphrased by Eugene Peterson:
I don't think there is any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. This created world itself can hardly wait for what is coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back now. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment. Meanwhile the joyful anticipation deepens.
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. We are also feeling the birth pangs. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. [This is what I call "negativity capability," or the rubber band pulled back which increases the momentum forward.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing [the Godself] to the worst by sending [God's] own Son, is there anything else [God] wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? . . . Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing. . . . None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing--nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable--absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us."
Homily: February 28, 2016
Luke 13: 1-9
Back in the mid 1960’s, my oldest sister and her family moved to Bakersfield, California. Whenever my mother received a letter from her, she would read it to us as we sat around the kitchen table. In one letter, she wrote, “Bakersfield is very hot and very dry. I miss the green of Iowa, the smell of the grass, cut hay, corn and fresh vegetables from the garden. We are located in a neat place, though. Drive for about an hour to the west, and you are on the beach by the ocean. Drive about an hour to the east, and you’re in the mountains and cool air. One funny thing we’ve discovered is that on Saturdays in the fall and on other evenings of the year, the scenic overlooks going up the mountains are packed with cars. We saw an Iowa flag waving in the breeze last Saturday, so Paul stopped and asked what was going on. It seems that Iowans drive up the mountain roads to the overlooks and tune their radios to WHO from Des Moines in order to listen to the Iowa football games. You can only get WHO at the mountain elevations. Why, we asked. Because it brings us closer to home, they replied. We took our grill and tail-gated on the mountain last Saturday, talking to fellow Iowans and listening to the Iowa vs Illinois football game. We’re not big football fans, but we had fun.
This phenomenon has always stuck with me over the years—people would drive up the mountain to listen to a football game in order to be closer to home. I don’t suppose this happens any more with satellite and cable TV, but I think the entire situation is interesting.
I know with myself, home is where I grew up, where my family was, my parents, my brothers and sisters—my extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and childhood friends—even though I haven’t lived there in 50 years. For me and [as it turns out] most people, this is home—the place where you were loved, accepted and welcomed, even when you were less than perfect.
Many psychological research studies have found that our first or main childhood home plays an integral role in the development of our personal identities. These initial childhood experiences can become deeply imprinted into our psyche, and if they were happy ones, we often seek to recreate them as adults and return to them often during our lives to provide us with guidance, assurance and comfort.
We like to be home as people. We like to have those roots. We like to have a place where we belong—a place where we are loved for just being us.
So, what does “home” have to do with today’s readings? Well, just about everything. In the first reading, God calls Moses through the burning bush to return home—back to Egypt—and bring the people of Israel back to their home-land. Paul [in his rather bizarre retelling of Israel’s exodus] admonishes the church of Corinth, urging them to return home to the principles and teachings of Jesus. He links the predominantly Gentile population of Corinth to the people of Israel with the curious phrase “our ancestors;” thus, inviting them to return home to the teachings of Jesus.
In both readings, it is good to return home—to a place where you are welcomed in love and acceptance. In both readings, the word “repent” in Hebrew literally means “to turn around” or “to return.” To repent means to turn around and return home.
The gospel begins with two tragedies that have happened. Pilot has apparently had some Galileans murdered and their blood mixed with the blood of their own sacrifices. Jesus replies, “Were the Galileans worse sinners? No. Then Jesus adds another tragedy pointing out the eighteen people who were killed when a tower collapsed. “Were the eighteen victims worse sinners?” he asks. No. These events were not because of some great sin that those people had committed.
So why did they happen? We’re waiting for the answer from Jesus. But he doesn’t give us one. No, he ignores the abstract, “Why do bad things like this happen?” and goes straight to the lives of those listening. And to us. He turns and looks at us. Unless we repent, we too will perish. And this perish is even more catastrophic than the tragedies that brought death. This perishing is eternal. Forever being separated from God. Never being able to come home to his love. Jesus is taking us out of the abstract “why?” and turning us back to ourselves. Calling us to repent, that is, to turn around and come home to God.
Jesus tells us how repentance works. You turn away from something that is pulling you away from Jesus and turn around to come back home to God. It’s like the parable of the Prodigal Son. The young son wants his inheritance early. His father gives it to him. He heads off to another city to live. Do you see what the big problem is? As Americans, we think about how he wasted the money. We imagine what type of sinful living he indulged in. But the bigger problem happened earlier. He. Left. Home. He turned his back on his home.
Finally, he realizes what he has done. He’s feeding pigs and they have better food than he does. So repentance has begun. He turns away from what has led him so far from home and heads back. His father sees him coming. He runs to meet him. New robe. New sandals. New ring. Celebration! He’s come home. Repentance is coming home. Repentance is being welcomed home in love and acceptance.
Repentance is coming home to Jesus—to God, and God is waiting with open arms, but our time is limited, and we don’t have forever. Jesus illustrates this idea with the parable of the fig tree. In Jesus’ time, bad things didn’t just happen to good people. So if you found yourself in the midst of a horrific event then you must have done something to upset God. But Jesus says this concept that punishment and sin are related is inaccurate and inconsistent with the truths about God’s mercy and forgiveness. The last thing Jesus says before diving into the parable is “But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). The point is not that these people were sinful and therefore bad things happened to them; God never promised that your life would be free of tragedy and disappointment. The point is that you must repent—return to God--and the time to do so is now.
Just as the fig tree was, given another chance to bear fruit, so are we given another chance to repent, but you must not wait. This parable also provides the audience with a sense of hope. The story does not give you closure as to whether the fig tree produced fruit after that last year. It leaves it open—to give you hope that no matter how barren you may be, there is still the possibility of becoming fruitful.
When I travel somewhere new to me, I use a GPS. If I miss a turn, it says, “turn at the next street—turn right, then turn right and then turn right again, getting me back on the right path. With God, it’s always possible to turn around and get “back” on the right path—to come home, and God welcomes us with opened arms. Repentance is coming home. Things will happen. And while the gift of our earthly life is still ours, we need to ask ourselves, how is our relationship with God? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Are we relieving the sufferings of others or are we pointing fingers to connect the dots between their suffering and sin—blaming the person.
I can’t help but think of poor Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who is swept away in a tornado, forced to face unbelievable horrors and dangers of all sorts, and who—in the end—processed the power of her own salvation by simply clicking her heels together and repeating the words, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” Maybe during this Lenten season we should all repent—turn around and return home to God.
Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016
First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near-
a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see--we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Just this past Sunday, my husband and I returned from Puerto Rico. We’d never been there before. It was a wonderful place to escape from the cold; very friendly and green, so green. We went to a rainforest, the only American Rainforest in the National forest system. As we entered, there was an overwhelming sense of awe. Some of the trees are thousands of years old. There are more species of trees in this one forest than in all the other national forests combined. One tree in particular was remarkable. It was a palm tree whose roots started above ground. You could see how intentional its roots were in digging in deep. There were hundreds of roots coming from one tree, all helping to ground it in the soil and to soak up the over 200 inches of water that the rainforest gets every year. The bark was covered in moss, soft and moist. These trees form the canopy for the rainforest, home to insects and birds and rare tiny frogs called coquis. And all of this began with a single drop of water.
Which brings us to Lent. Lent is an opportunity to start over, to try again, to be more intentional about our relationship with God, especially in our pray, to pray in a way that is meaningful, in a way that changes us and deepens our faith. Anything that can help us to become more deeply rooted in our faith is can be part of Lent. How do we begin?
Fear is often a motivator. In today’s readings we hear Joel warning us to shape up. That’s very typical of the Hebrew scriptures—true fire and brimstone. Joel insists that now is the time for us to fast and to weep. We hear the warning, the threat of punishment, the ‘or else’ of this reading. You’d better repent. Blow the trumpets to wake everyone up to this reality. God is at the ready. Will he be merciful or very, very angry? We hear a small caveat that God can be nice, slow to anger, even gracious but you just never know how God will act so better be safe than sorry. The message is one of fear to motivate change.
Paul wants us to be reconciled with God, with the very clear inference that we are to blame. Sin is assumed. We have fallen away through sin. Paul and the disciples are trying to show us the way back to God. They’ve done their part, he says, now it’s our turn. The gauntlet has been thrown. Now it’s up to us to make good choices, to repent and turn from our sinful ways. Paul uses comparisons and subtle “look what we’ve done” to urge us on. Guilt can be a strong motivator as well.
Thankfully, Jesus takes a different angle. He uses love as a motivator. Imagine that. Jesus invites us to connect with God. He says “when” you pray not “if” you pray. He assumes good of us, that we do pray and that it is a “when”, a time set aside for privacy, for silence, for time away from the chaos of life. So, Jesus says, when you go there, this is how you are to do it. Jesus offers gentle instructions, giving us contrasts, not this way but that way—not like the hypocrites who make it so obvious to others. That’s not prayer, that’s showmanship or one-upmanship—the I-do-it-better-than-you game. No, that is not prayer. This is how a good rabbi should be teaching us, how to help us connect with God in authentic ways, ways that actually change the relationship and deepen it.
Prayer is just that—a connecting with God. Jesus wants us to understand how vital it is for us to do this regularly, daily, like steady drops of water that collect over time. For a while, I decided that my life was a prayer, that everything I did was prayer. I was a busy mom and daily prayer just didn’t seem possible. It was a convenient way of hoping to pray but not wholly effective. Rather, choosing to be intentional about prayer is what Jesus is urging. Times when we become aware of God in the midst of our day, can be a prayerful moment. And so I found that simple ways of incorporating time for prayer can work. Most often, I turn off the radio during Lent, so that my drive time is prayer time, a time for silence and intention. Anytime we can find where there is an opportunity, we can use it to reconnect with God.
Images help us as well. Those roots from the palm tree in the rainforest help anchor me. They are such a powerful image for prayer. I long to be that firmly rooted in God, where I can withstand hurricane-force winds that bend and threaten to break me. Hundreds of roots that anchor me in God, the source of all life. The rainforest is a network of life, all inter-connected and inter-reliant. The single drop of rain that multiplies over and over again to renew the plants and to grow the roots is essential to the whole system. We need God, just like the roots of those palm trees need the water and the ground. Can we be grounded in God like that? Can we work to spread our very roots in God as our earth, rich loam, yes dirty ash that help to green us, to grow us in the network of life. Life is not lived on the surface or if it is, we often grow stale and restless. We become despondent because as spiritual beings we need more. Perhaps our Lent can be a time of intentional moments that ground our soul, in deeper, meaningful ways.
The silence of the rainforest was striking. Once we heard the coqui teasing us. Sometimes words can be helpful in prayer, or soft music or humming. Other times, silence can be a balm for us in the chaos of life. This is what Jesus is encouraging us to do, to take a time out in our daily life, a time that he knows we need, alone, in quiet, when we can actually focus on our God with assurance. Silence can be one of the most healing experiences—the silence of a new fallen snow, a morning sunrise or a bright moonlit night. These are snapshots of beauty or emotion that cannot be found when we rush. Ten seconds or ten minutes, at a stoplight or while doing dishes, these moments of prayer need to be chosen, pondered, reflected upon and allowed to deepen in our souls. Dorothy Whiston, one of my spiritual directors, often encouraged me to marinate in these kind of moments. I love that verb for prayer: marinating. Soaking in God’s love to help move us through our longing our sadness even through our pain. Maybe that’s our image—a jar of pickles or olives, marinating in the oil, the balm of God.
Silence like this can be risky—we do not know what we might hear or become aware of in the dark, through silence. Our deepest fear is one of abandonment, that we are utterly alone in life. Which is often why we keep making noise. And why we keep avoiding prayer. Is it true? Are we really just all alone in this life? Jesus would never have insisted that we go to pray alone if God was not to be found there. Nor would he encourage us to give thanks, or to be forgiven as we forgive others. The Jesus prayer, or the Lord’s Prayer as it is known, is primarily a relational prayer, one that speaks to the inter-connectedness of us all, the give and take of daily life and the constancy of God who provides for our every need.
Lent is a time to deepen our choice to trust in God, a God who is mysterious and sometimes elusive. A God who is rain or sun or dirt. May we choose to plant ourselves, to root ourselves in a place that reconnects us to God this Lent. Whether it is ten seconds or ten minutes, may we interrupt our busy lives to pray, to become mindful of the God who beckons, who can help us feel deeply connected and never forsaken.
As we are marked with dirt, may we feel ourselves claimed by a God who cherishes us, who sees us as the co-creators we can be in our own forest. This Lent our God waits for us to come away, to find the treasure that awaits in the precious space of time set aside, and to be renewed in what really matters—love, sacred relationship that is eternal. Blessings on your Lenten season. Amen.
Wedding at Cana - January 17,2016
First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
Gospel Reading: John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Jesus’ birth is the first miracle, then the Epiphany, then Jesus’ baptism. This wedding feast at Cana and the changing of the water into wine is the third Epiphany for us—the third time for us to begin to choose a faith that is true.
We, as Catholic Christians, carry the sense of truth, the sensus fidelium
What happened to Jesus' disciples to give them strength to go on—
in spite of the crucifixion and the persecution—
was their experience of God's presence in their lives.
Jesus' way made sense to them.
It was their instinct for the truth,
their sensus fidelium—the sense of the faithful.
The Second Vatican Council made it clear that sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) does not mean sensus laicorum (sense of the lay people), as if it were a charismgranted to the laity in isolation from the Catholic Church hierarchy, and as if the clergy were not included among "the faithful". It stated:
The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people's supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God.
In a speech to the International Theological Commission on 7 December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI distinguished between the authentic meaning of sensus fidei and a counterfeit understanding: "It is certainly not a kind of public ecclesial opinion, and invoking it in order to contest the teachings of the Magisterium would be unthinkable, since the sensus fidei cannot be authentically developed in believers, except to the extent in which they fully participate in the life of the Church, and this demands responsible adherence to the Magisterium, to the deposit of faith.
Blessed John Henry Newman said that there are three magisteria in the church: the bishops, the theologians and the people. On the issue of women's ordination, two of the three voices have been silenced, which is why the third voice must now make itself heard...
Addressing a group of theologians in December 2013, Pope Francis said: "By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Church possess a 'sense of faith'. This is a kind of 'spiritual instinct' that makes us sentire cum Ecclesia [think with the mind of the Church] and to discern that which is in conformity with the apostolic faith and is in the spirit of the Gospel. Of course, the sensus fidelium [sense of the faithful] cannot be confused with the sociological reality of a majority opinion. It is, therefore, important—and one of your tasks—to develop criteria that allow the authentic expressions of the sensus fidelium to be discerned. … This attention is of greatest importance for theologians. Pope Benedict XVI often pointed out that the theologian must remain attentive to the faith lived by the humble and the small, to whom it pleased the Father to reveal that which He had hidden from the learned and the wise.”
Did Mary represent the sensus fidelium and say, “No it IS your time now” by having the servants “Do whatever he tells you to do”? It’s worth talking about what constitutes the sensus fidelium?
Epiphany January 10, 2016
For those who seek a Saviour
we lead them to the Stable
To the One who was born
To bring freedom
For those who seek Assurance
we lead them to the Light
To the One who opens eyes
For those who seek Forgiveness
We lead them to a Grace
Perfect Light of revelation,
As you shone in the life of Jesus, whose epiphany we celebrate,
So shine in us and through us, that we may become beacons of truth and compassion, enlightening all creation with deeds of justice and mercy.
May 24, 2015
First Reading: Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-13
3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Sermon: Pentecost, believe it or not, was a Jewish festival first. It was known as the Feast of Weeks because it commemorated the Moses receiving the Ten Commandments fifty days after the Exodus. Then, when the Pentecost we know happened, the disciples renewed this Feast for the Birthday of the church. For us, it’s been 50 days since Easter. Now we have new life once again in the coming to the Holy Spirit. I love how the Bible does this over and over, taking a core story and re-emphasizing it again and again, always with the main theme being liberation from slavery and death. This is such an important feast day, that I decided to preach a few words and then open it up for our usual “open mike” Sunday. Today is the day when the Spirit entered into the disciples to give them a passion for preaching, teaching and speaking about the power of Jesus in their lives. Did you notice the drama? The rush of a violent wind, and tongues as of fire descended on each of them. We know the power of wind and rain—that is not so unusual here in Iowa but then we have flames of fire that were self-suspended over each disciples’ head. How fascinating that tongues of fire is what led to them speaking in tongues that everyone understood. That’s when we realize that something unnatural, something truly profound is happening here. This was a full conversion experience for the disciples. Not one of the disciples freaked out. Not one of them doubted what this was all about. They walk out with confidence and great intent.
And of course, the world mocks them. “That was weird,” or “Those drunken guys still can’t get over Jesus being killed.” Explanations run rampant. Peter is very quick to emphasize that they are not drunk. Afterall, it’s only 9 in the morning! He quotes from the Hebrew scriptures, from Joel the prophet, to make it clear that what is happening is of God. It is a profound and mysterious thing—speaking and being understood by all. He ends by saying, 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
He goes back to that drinking theme and nails it to the wall. See, hear and believe.
What is clear is that this event is the pinnacle of unity. This is where we can look at scripture without question and say, the hope for unity started here. This theme continues from our first reading all the way through to our gospel reading. Even in different languages, the message is still the same. Jesus is the point of unity. Peter emphasizes that no one who preaches FOR Jesus, can say things AGAINST him. Once again, unity is clear, especially unity of message. It’s a great beginning point for a new religion—let’s get our focus to be clear and our message to be the same.
Finally in our gospel, Jesus comes and stands in their midst. He says PEACE be with you twice as if to calm their hearts—and then he gives them the ability to forgive. That is a powerful new skill and they must have felt incredibly humbled. Only God had the power to forgive. Ever. Now they realize that Jesus is beginning to merge the human and divine powers. We symbolize that at every mass. The power to forgive. We take it so for granted and rarely confer it on others. If only we realized its power to release God’s energy for good. When we are stuck in anger or resentment, the goal of unity is stifled—it cannot be achieved. Nothing and no one can move forward without the freeing words of forgiveness. Perhaps we need to reclaim that power and begin a movement of forgiveness. What do you think?
May 3, 2015
I am the Vine
First Reading: Acts 9:26-31
When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Second Reading: 1 John 3:18-24
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Gospel Reading: John 15:1-8
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Freddie Gray (Baltimore), Michael Brown (Ferguson), Eric Garner (Staten Island), Walter Scott (South Carolina), and Tamir Rice (12 yo Cleveland); these are names we need to know, names we should remember. All of them were black men killed by police. Friday, a Baltimore prosecutor charged six police with second degree murder, vehicular manslaughter, assault manslaughter, false imprisonment and misconduct for the death of Freddie Gray. Finally, there is some sense of justice. This seems to balance the unrelenting abuse and disregard for life by our police forces. This is not something new or isolated. Each case adds to a long record of police brutality. It is horrific to realize that six officers together acted in a way that was illegal—not one of them came to their senses to respond in a humane and moral way. Clearly, this is how they have been operating for a long, long time. It is not something that happened over night or as a random incident. Some police have learned to take their power foregranted and to abuse it. Not all police but enough that we now know the truth.
There is a website called mapping police violence which is gathering data about this problem. I urge you to take a look at this, not just today, but regularly to get information.
It is our responsibility to stay informed, to learn both sides of these cases and to stand with those who have no voice, no power—often the poor, often black men (arrested nine times more in our own city), often those who were already struggling in our American system of greed and injustice. It is also our responsibility to examine the violence in our lives. How do we contribute to violence in our times of anger, on the road, at work and in our homes. It would be good to ask, “What does it take to kill another person?” Would any of us be capable of that? We must bring these questions to prayer and ask God’s help in becoming peacemakers—always. Prayer can replace protest.
In our gospel today we hear about Jesus as the vine and that we are the branches. It reminds me of the bumper sticker that reads “Everything is connected.” Everyone is connected. We are all part of the same tree of life. When one of us is hurt, we all suffer. I can hardly bear to watch the video of these men being killed—by the very people we pay to protect us. We cannot let it be okay simply because they were killed within the system of law that exists. The vine withers if it is not pruned of such horrific behavior. Can there be new life, new growth from such a systemic problem of violence? We all want to hope so.
There will be backlash from the Baltimore prosecutor’s actions. All six officers posted bail. Already the Baltimore police union is saying that the chief prosecutor has many conflicts of interest. She is from a long line of police officers, five generations including her mom and dad but she is married to a councilman. There will be lots of reasons given to impede justice. And when that happens, the vine dies a bit more.
Our own Roman Catholic Church seems to be dying on the vine. The pope continues to spark hope when he makes certain statements. This week he insisted that women should be paid the same as men. A great statement and yet these words lead to no real action. Women are still treated as second class citizens in the church. Only 12% of women are employed by the Vatican. It would be interesting to see if they are paid equally as much as the men. Of its 572 citizens, only 32 are female. These women in Vatican City are expected to wear black skirts or black dresses that do not expose the knee area. The length of the sleeves of the top clothing are required to be "mid to long sleeves" length. Women are not allowed to wear pants. Only "simple jewelry" is permitted. Footwear for women should be "dark closed-toe shoes". Women may or may not wear a "black hat or veil. With these kinds of ancient practice, the pope might want to look in his own backyard before pointing his finger at the world. In our second reading, John says, “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Actions are what help the vine of our world to grow and blossom, evidence that what is said actually means something. Words alone are not enough.
As part of the same vine, we can check our own behavior when it comes to how we treat others. There is a ripple effect; a way in which what we do effects so many others. These five men, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Tamir Rice, were part of a family, a community. Their deaths matter. Because of the violence and unrest, two well-known gangs, the Bloods and the Crips in Baltimore, have called a truce to their violence towards each other. The headline read: “Are things so bad that even Baltimore’s gang adversaries are joining forces to combat law enforcement?” One gang member named Muhammad said, “We can unite and stop killing one another, and the Bloods and the Crips can help rebuild the community.” Amazing. They have been converted to heal. They seem to understand that we are all connected and that together, we can make a difference. How strange that we now look to gangs to help heal the vine rather than to the establishment who have been the expected leaders.
In our first reading, Saul who became known as Paul, was initially seen as a gang member by the apostles--or at least as a very strong member of the Pharisees; well trained in his Jewish tradition and beliefs—who was out to kill all Christians. Until he had his own conversion experience on the way to Damascus. It would take the apostles time to appreciate his authenticity but he would soon become one of them as well, part of the vine that was spreading Jesus word.
We hear about pruning in our gospel and it may do us well to prune our attitudes. For me, I need to be less judgmental towards the police, although I was raised not to respect these men who always pulled my wonderful father over on the highway for speeding. I want to know their stories but my heart tends to beat strongest for those who have died. Each of these five black men died because of the strength and actions of the very people who are paid to help us. That needs explaining. Let us be aware of how our attitudes encourage the violence rather than healing. And we can only do this with God’s help. God is our source of grace and courage. In God we can hope for change in this game of power that we play here on earth. God wants us to ask, to call upon Her for help—because when we ask, we acknowledge that God is the answer; God is the vine, apart from whom we cannot bear fruit. May we remember we are the branches that are attached to the vine—we must look first to our source of strength and wisdom before we can see how best to reach out in love to all others. Amen.