READINGS AND REFLECTIONS
Full Circle Catholic Faith Community
April 23, 2017
If doubt is an attitude of uncertainty or a wavering of belief, then Thomas is anything but doubting. I believe that the tried and true sermons on doubting Thomas are not true to the text, and other approaches should be tried.
From the start, it is important to realize the story is not about Thomas. Rather, the story is about varied responses to the reality of the resurrection. Thomas’ response (though quite vivid) is but one in an assortment of responses presented in John 20. Various initial responses to the resurrection in 20:1-18 include:
Mary Magdalene's first response is one of consternation, because she concluded that Jesus' corpse was moved to some unknown location. Then, depending on the account, Mary sees the risen Jesus, believes and accepts the commission to tell the other disciples.
Peter's response is quite ambiguous. He sees the immediate evidence (the position of the linen clothes and the face cloth) but comes to no definitive conclusions.
The response of the Beloved Disciple is to see and believe even without knowing the scriptural prophecy regarding Jesus' resurrection.
Subsequently, Jesus moves Mary Magdalene to a response of faith in which she carries out Jesus' commission and testifies to the fact that she has seen the Lord.
As the text opens, the disciples display an initial response of fear because of the Jews. They are letting the world, rather than the risen Jesus, control their actions and attitudes. Jesus, however, breaks into their locked up, fearful lives and bids them peace as fulfillment of his promises. This triggers their new resurrection response of joy. The gift of the Holy Spirit enlivens the disciples to continue Jesus’ ministry without rendering them perfect believers.
Jesus immediately imparts the Holy Spirit onto those present, and commissions them to participate in the ongoing mission for which God had originally sent Jesus. As Mary Magdalene responded obediently to the commission the risen Lord gave her, so it is anticipated that the disciples will respond obediently to the commission the risen Jesus has given them regarding the forgiveness and retention of sins.
Thomas is missing when the other disciples encounter Jesus. Yet he hears from them the same proclamation they heard from Mary Magdalene: “We have seen the Lord!” Like Thomas, the disciples were not immediately transformed by Mary’s proclamation of the good news. They remain behind locked doors, where they are gathered out of fear. Like Thomas, the disciples only respond with joy to Jesus’ presence after he shows them his hands and his side.
Thomas presents a very different response to the reality of the resurrection. For their part, the disciples continue to reflect the proper Easter faith response in their report that they have seen the Lord, virtually repeating Mary's Easter faith response. Thomas responds, not with doubt, but with definite and emphatic conditions for believing.
The Greek construction is a clear-- "if this...then that ..." condition stated negatively. Essentially, Thomas is saying that if the conditions he establishes are not met, then he will definitely not believe.
Rather than "doubting Thomas," the text presents "conditional Thomas."
How often do we approach our faith relationship as a legal contract in which we seek to establish the terms by which we will respond with faith? "If I have historical proof...If I have a sign...If near-death experiences can verify...If God would do...If Jesus would cure...Then I will believe in Christ...Then I will know that God exists...Then I will know that there is life after death...Then I will make a commitment of faith."
We replicate the folly of conditional Thomas each time we establish for Christ how Christ needs to operate in our lives and each time we ground our faith in what we demand from God, rather than in what God does in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. An initial reading of this gospel might lead one to conclude that Thomas comes to believe because Jesus meets his conditions. John's text, however, is more subtle than that.
On the one hand, Jesus gives several commands to Thomas, echoing the conditions Thomas had established in the first place. On the other hand, Thomas never physically examines or inspects Jesus' wounds as he claimed he needed to do before he would believe. Instead, the key is the closing command Jesus gives, "Don't be unbelieving but believing." Thomas responds, "My Lord and my God."
Through the series of responses to the reality of Easter presented in this Gospel, we discover that believing is neither a matter of physical proofs nor having our conditions met. Likewise, believing is not simply a matter of seeing but transcends seeing, as Jesus' congratulatory remark makes clear —“You have become a believer because you saw me. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Although the narrator proclaims “blessed” the one who has not seen and yet has believed, this is true of none of Jesus’ disciples, except perhaps the beloved disciple. Instead, John portrays the disciples as still reaching toward belief in Jesus. Even Thomas’s confession, “My Lord and my God!” does not mark the completion of faith. His statement is a significant confession, but it is not the end of the story. The disciples embody a belief that reaches toward but never quite achieves complete understanding of Jesus.
The question this Gospel raises explicitly is the reader’s relationship to Jesus’ disciples. What is expected of later followers of Jesus, and should they understand themselves as like or unlike the disciples of the story? Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. Is this a special possession of the early church? Some interpreters imagine “the disciples” here as a limited group of the twelve (minus Judas and Thomas) who are commissioned as official apostles with particular duties that raise them above the level of the average believer. Jesus’ words to them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them...” reinforces the perception for many that the disciples have a unique role.
Yet it may be better to understand the disciples as a group that reflects John’s understanding of discipleship as a whole. As is often the case in John, “the disciples” are unnumbered and unnamed. Although John clearly knows of the designation “the twelve,” he uses the phrase to identify disciples who are part of Jesus’ most intimate group of associates rather than to specify the actions or characteristics of the group.
Although readers may be primed to expect Jesus’ last supper to be eaten with the twelve, or that he will appear to the eleven alone in his resurrection, John specifies only that “the disciples” are present in each case. This designation suggests a more open-ended group of people included in Jesus’ words and actions. After all, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus—one of them is named Cleopas, Jesus’ uncle, and the other is unnamed, but arguably would be his aunt Mary who was present at the crucifixion—before he appeared to the disciples of the “inner” circle.
But what then does it mean for Jesus to breathe out the Holy Spirit and to tell this larger group of disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them”? Remember, after all, that Thomas was not there when the “disciples” received the Holy Spirit—he would not have been commissioned then. The passage is, instead, a commissioning scene for believers—a commissioning of the church as a whole, not an elite group of leaders. It is a commissioning for us.
John’s language seems to grant broad powers to the church to forgive or retain sins, and we are the church. It may help to remember that throughout John’s Gospel “sin” has referred to the rejection of Jesus and his ministry. Jesus’ presence already reveals and condemns people’s belief or unbelief. In Jesus’ absence the church steps into this role. The image is not a narrow one of a priest assigning penance but a broader recognition that the church [we] becomes the arbiters of acceptance or rejection of Jesus.
Even so, part of our modern difficulty with this text may be that Jesus leaves this authority in the hands of disciples who are not themselves free from sin. John seems well aware of this, having positioned the story of commissioning in the midst of the disciples’ struggle to come to terms with their resurrection faith. Instead of trying to “solve” the problem of this responsibility granted to the church, I would say instead that the passage seems consistent with John’s portrait of the disciples. They are called to do much more than they are capable of. Yet they occasionally achieve great clarity, and in those moments they manifest the hope of the resurrection. We too are called to do much more than we are capable of doing, yet we can occasionally achieve great things in the name of the risen Jesus Christ and manifest, too, the hope of the resurrection.
With that being said, how can we, Jesus’ disciples, forgive sin, bringing people into the belief of the risen Jesus? I would suggest that one way is to do what Jesus told us to do—feed the hungry. We may do this with our pens by writing letters to our Senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst in support of the Bread for the World letter writing campaign to our U.S. Senators. This letter writing campaign is not a charity asking, it is an advocacy request. Here’s why:
The important Safety Net and Poverty-Focused Development Assistance Programs will be cut by [at least] 10% with the new 2018 federal budget.
These cuts will adversely affect programs like SNAP [food stamp], WIC [supplemental nutrition assistance program for women, infants and children, the SCHOOL MEAL PROGRAM, PFDA [poverty focused foreign assistance] and the IFA [international food assistance program]
Social security/ unemployment and labor are 36% of the budget, Medicare and Medicaid is 24% of the budget, defense if 20% of the budget, net interest on the debt is 8%. This leaves 12% of the federal budget for all other programs and only 3% is allowed for the department of Agriculture which administers these food programs—down from 4% last year. This is a 25% reduction in money and services.
These programs are vital for the poor of this country and have been proven to lift people out of poverty in an effective manner.
What we are asked to do is to write a hand written letter to our Senators and to other representatives if you wish encouraging them to pass legislation that will protect those who are hungry, poor and vulnerable in the United States and abroad. This sort of personalized letter is the most influential way to influence a member of Congress. Each hand-written letter is logged in and the number of letters received for or against a certain issue show members of congress how important the issue is to their constituents. On-line petition and mass post card mailings are generally ignored.
I have some sample letter ideas here and if you are so inclined to forgive sins and manifest the hope of the resurrection in others, please write letters to our legislators requesting that they fully fund these needed food programs.
Sunday- March 26, 2017
In chapter 9, the miracle story is told first in quick strokes. Following the miracle story itself John presents several dialogs that take place between various parties, all of whom are in one way or another trying to resolve a dilemma created by the miracle.
Perhaps the overall theme can be stated succinctly in terms of light and darkness, seeing and blindness, faith and unfaith.
The first dilemma addressed is the issue of sin and blindness that the disciples raised at the beginning of the story. Such views of God must surely be put to rest once and for all. Yet when tragedies occur, people instinctively ask, why did God do this to me? Why is God punishing me? Jesus says that there is no connection between sin and physical problems, ailments or disasters—none whatsoever, but even such tragedies may be an occasion for God’s manifestation to us.
The blind man's neighbors raise another sort of question. They don't believe that this is the same man that was blind. This, they say, cannot happen. It's never heard of that someone born blind should receive their sight. There is no suggestion here that we believe everything that comes our way; however, there is a suggestion we certainly cannot understand God. People with genuine faith recognize the limitations of their knowledge and reserve judgment until such time that there is a better understanding. The church in past history has condemned people like Copernicus, Galileo, and other scientists because of their novel theories about the solar system. Later the church had to retract its condemnation of these individuals when their theories became established facts. Even now, the Catholic Church continues with condemnation of new views. Hasty pronouncements in the name of faith may not be genuine faith at all.
The parents of the healed man demonstrate another type of spiritual darkness. Fear of speaking out and failure to stand up for truth and justice will keep us in darkness. In this narrative John presents the negative example of the Pharisees. They persist in their religious heritage so staunchly that they turn a deaf ear and close their eyes to new things that God was doing. That is blindness! One can apparently be extremely religious and faithful to the old-time religion and still be blind. I would point to women as priests as a current case in point.
On the other hand, the narrative presents an opposite picture. At the center of the controversy is the lone figure of the blind man who was healed and now has to answer questions. His healing leads into turmoil instead of jubilation. Where is Jesus when the man is being questioned, harassed and attacked? Why is Jesus absent? While this healed man is trying his best to answer questions, it is obvious that his knowledge of Jesus is far from perfect. Yet in these circumstances there is no sudden flash of revelation and insight from heaven. The man simply stumbles along, doing his best with his limited knowledge of Jesus. But the more he is attacked, the deeper he seems to grow in his understanding of Jesus.
The question for John's circle of believers was how to go on living the life of faithfulness to Jesus when Jesus was not around. How do we answer difficult questions that opponents ask? How does a second, third or fourth generation faith community continue its life when the original founders of the movement are no longer around? How should a life of faith be lived out in these new times? What does it mean to be faithful to one's tradition and heritage and at the same time find answers to new questions that are being asked?
The Gospel of John is a good model for us. John takes the old stories of Jesus and recasts them in such a way that they bear witness to Jesus with great power and luster in a new setting that is linguistically and culturally so different from the Galilean, Judean, Palestinian setting where Jesus had lived and ministered. The Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus in an entirely different way than the other three gospels. Do our doctrines, theological language and categories of thought have to remain as they were fifty, one hundred, or two hundred years ago? We can learn a vital lesson from the Gospel of John--how to remain faithful in our witness to God's work in Christ while adapting our modes of expression to the cultural setting in which we live.
Yet in a real sense, Jesus was not absent in the story of John 9, nor is he absent from our own story today. Jesus is at the center of all the controversy, the questions, and the insults that the healed man is experiencing. He is giving witness to the work of God that Jesus had done. His witness is at times weak, incomplete, inadequate, but it is growing. And in the end, when he is kicked out by the Pharisees, Jesus finds him and leads him to a fuller understanding. Jesus does not abandon him. The blind man receives his sight, a miracle in the physical realm. But much more significantly, his spiritual eyes are opened and his darkness turns to light as he falls on his knees before Jesus and says, "Lord, I believe."
We must also open our spiritual eyes, remain faithful in our witness to God’s works in Christ and continually adapt our modes of expression to the cultural needs in which we live. Jesus will not abandon us but lead us to a fuller understanding of God.
Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple: A New Beginning
Feb 12, 2017
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Second Reading: Hebrews 2:14-18
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them,[a] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[b]
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[d]She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
As the third oldest in our family of eight, I can remember mom bringing my younger siblings after they were born to church to offer them back to God. We’d go during the day because, of course, churches were always open back then. And mom would do the praying. There was no priest involved, no community. Just us and I thought it was lovely. A wonderful way to bless our new family member and to remind the rest of us that God was primary in our lives.
Today we examine and celebrate this ancient Hebrew tradition that ultimately represented a love of God: Jesus Presentation in the Temple. But before we focus on the Jesus part, I think it’s important that we understand what’s NOT said in today’s reading. It was typical Jewish practice that a woman, after having given birth to a male, was deemed unclean for 40 days—so no going to Temple, no male visitors. On the 40th day, she was to show herself to the Temple high priest (having been forbidden to enter prior to this time), have the purification rites performed and was then welcomed back to the Temple community. Had she given birth to a girl, her wait was double, 80 days until she could be “purified” and returned to her community. Do you see how direct the implication is? Having a girl is much worse than having a boy—doubly worse. Underneath this archaic ritual, was the primary belief that God was holy and deserving of all good. Our messy human experiences like reproduction had to be cleansed, redeemed somehow, thus the purification rituals. It makes me sad that this was simply an accepted part of Jewish tradition, no questions asked. Mary did her part and life went on.
But we are a very different generation from Jesus’ time. We’ve come a long way. After the Women’s March of recent weeks and more recently, the woman Senator, Elizabeth Warren, debating the legitimacy of the new Attorney General Sessions, and being told to “shut up”, it would be understandable if we balked at today’s liturgical celebration. Yes, Jesus is the focus and thanks to Jesus, we have come a long way in truly appreciating the value of all people. Still, our focus needs to be on what is not seen, the stories that are not told so that we do not simply accept what appears to be the norm—a ban on Muslim travel, an Attorney General who has a history of racism, a president who is not above the law. We must speak out in truth whenever possible even when we have been warned, we have been given explanations. Still we must persist. That is what we are reminded of today at the Presentation of Jesus. Times have changed, should change, must change until all people are seen as valuable. You have been challenged to speak the truth because of Mary’s silence—
Now we can shift to Jesus. Mary and Joseph come to offer their child back to God and instead God says, No, this child is my gift to you, for the whole world to see anew! This is not what Joseph and Mary expected. To have both Solomon and Anna affirm Jesus status as the One is fabulous! Let us not miss the significance. This is big. Joseph and Mary knew their child was special and held their secret close, trusting that he would become who he was meant to be. But to hear such public pronouncements made by respected religious leaders, must’ve been overwhelming. What was it about Mary or Joseph or Jesus himself that made Solomon so certain he was the one? This was an average family, offering two turtledoves to the high priest. And yet, Solomon says aloud in prayer to God, “You may now dismiss your servant in peace. (Or, in other words, “I can die happy now.”) For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Mary and Joseph’s beliefs have been confirmed by a higher authority. Jesus has been offered back to God, been presented and has been received as God’s embodiment. So this presentation is a new beginning. It’s a text that confirms Jesus as God’s gift to us. Can we embrace this truth? Can we see that this is a profound text. Can we reclaim our passion for belief in Jesus? I believe that this is a new beginning, an opportunity to affirm our Christianity, to proclaim that we believe—and we will persist in our efforts to continue what Jesus started.
February 2, 2017
Baptism of Jesus
First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
Second Reading: Acts 10:34-38
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God show no partiality but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
When Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Own, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.”
Sermon: (Have water nearby)
Mortality stinks! Lately I’ve been surrounded by reminders of my mortality and it has not been a good thing. I was sick for almost three weeks and felt how dependent I was on others. Rarely have I been sick and it was a humbling experience. At times, I needed help getting out of bed. And I slept hour upon hour. Ridiculous. Then, last Friday I went to Louise’s funeral and that was truly a difficult experience. Louise was my age, mother to 4 children, spouse of a doctor—there were too many similarities to ignore. Finally, this past week, I’ve been caring for Anna who was very sick and out of school from Tuesday through Friday. At times, I’d become angry with how stuck and frustrated I felt, like reliving the same bad dream over and over again, listening to her cough, hour after hour, time seemed to crawl and I found myself despairing. Some of you live with chronic illness and know what I’m talking about in a very real way. I cannot imagine how you endure. I now appreciate how lonely it can be, how dark and disheartening. Illness puts us in the grip of doubt, fear and death. Perhaps this is what Peter meant when he talked about “being in the grip of the Devil.” It felt very much like that—when all hope seems lost.
Which is why today’s readings made my heart sing. Isaiah, the prophet, foreshadows Christ’s coming—calling Jesus a servant, God’s chosen one, covenant of the people, a light of the nations, someone who will open the eyes of the blind, free captives and release those who have been living in darkness—like me. How encouraging!
Peter was becoming more wise and mature in his faith and comes upon his own aha—that God shows no partiality. Mindblowing for a man of his time where everyone was judged by who they are, their family, their standing in the Temple. He says, “No, I’ve discovered that those who fear God and do what is right are acceptable to God.” Boom. Done. Such a proclamation. Intention is everything—regardless of one’s status. We are still trying to live that in this day and age, especially with a paranoid president who demands walls instead of bridges, judgement instead of mercy. No partiality? We’ve got a long way to go to help fight for the 11 million undocumented people in our midst.
Then in our gospel, Jesus comes to John to be baptized. John wants no part of this. He knows he is not worthy to perform such a sacrament. But Jesus insists. Jesus insists that John perform the rite, to fulfill the order of things, to do his baptism in the way that people will know and trust. John complies and what happens? The heavens open up! Was there really a voice, God’s voice, God actually saying something that profound, to affirm the truth of who Jesus is? Remarkable. Miraculous. Enough to change the world forever more. Jesus wants us to reclaim hope, to defy the darkness of despair to challenge the norm of fear and division. We are the baptized. We are the chosen. We are the ones Isaiah called the people, the captives. And we have been set free, if we but notice and embrace the promise of our faith. It should be enough to ignite our passion once again, to help us when we are faltering under life’s stress and strain, when we are overpowered by the Devil’s tenacious grip.
Jesus wanted us to be the ones to move his word into action—to be Christ in the world. I’ve been reading Teilhard de Chardin who was a mystic to help inspire me in my faith. For Teilhard, Christ today is not just Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead, but rather a huge, continually evolving Being as big as the universe. In this colossal, almost unimaginable Being each of us lives and develops in consciousness, like living cells in a huge organism. At various times, theologians have described this great Being as the Total Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Whole Christ, the Universal Christ or the Mystical Body of Christ. We are that Christ, not separate from a person who lived in the past but here and now, within and through us.
May today be a beginning for us, as a church and as individuals to reclaim our baptism, our choice to live as Christians who dispel darkness and defy darkness in all its forms, even when we are trapped by it ourselves. May the water we feel, renew our faith to be active, to choose the light, the way and the truth. Teilhard says, “All that is really worthwhile is action—faithful action for the world, and in God.”
The action I invite us take today is to see water here in a new light. We will be blessing each other with the water from the baptismal font before we receive communion. It’s a gesture of unity in memory of our baptism. And it’s also a gesture of empowerment. We are made of water, God has created us and gives us life through water, the birthing waters of our mother and the daily water we ingest to sustain life. Whenever we encounter water, we engage with the divine. That’s what today is about—Jesus being washed clean by the water (even though he didn’t need that). Jesus being in the water, of the water at one with us. We rely on water for survival. We read stories of brave immigrants who cross the border with only water to sustain them. Water wars in California with their droughts. Today we bless the water of our baptism and reclaim its power to move us beyond our mortality. We are mortal and immortal. May our immortality always help us to choose the water, the light of God who rises above our mortality and invites us to do the same.
Sunday, January 23, 2016:
Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Mass
First Reading: Words from MLK: “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”
Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-15
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.
Gospel Reading: Taken from “I Have a Dream speech”:
We have (also) come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. Let the People say, Amen!
Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. for how much his life compelled to move us forward towards unity. His words affect us still today, just as they deeply affected those who first heard them on August 28, 1965 some 51 years ago. His words have the rhythm of his culture, that call and response pattern which black people know so well. It comes from their spirituals, hymns of hope and patient endurance. Martin speaks to inspire, to encourage, to empower. Which is why he repeats his words, so we can remember: Now is the time…I have a dream…you can hear it resound in the crowd like a mantra. His words are steeped in faith—a deep, passionate belief that God is with him and will, in time, enable all people to get along, to share God’s goodness equally and without prejudice. We are still a long way from his dream. But not as far as when his words were first spoken. Can I get an Amen. Amen.
Friday was Trump’s inauguration. I didn’t watch it. Instead I sat in a dark movie theater and watched two movies in a row, with friends. We were trying to avoid the reality of what the day meant. We wanted to have our own anti-inauguration day. It was a difficult day. But yesterday was the Women’s March. Can I get an Amen! Watching those crowds (and knowing my son was somewhere among them) empowered me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Not just in DC but in Chicago, New York, Des Moines and 600 cities across the world, including London. Listening to women speak about being strong and fearless, about acting up and acting out if necessary, taking a stand and staying involved, volunteering and not backing down, not going back.
America Ferrera was probably the most powerful speaker when she said, “The president is not America. The cabinet is not America. The congress is not America. We are America and we are here to stay.” She also added, “We will not go from a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance.”
And that’s when I realized that I am not alone, that we are not alone. What we have been grieving and sadly anticipating on Friday was spoken and heard and opposed around the world yesterday. I kept staring at the women and men who were wearing their pussy hats in opposition and in love. One Muslim black woman said that if you are wondering what to do now, you should follow women of color. They are the ones who’ve been fighting this fight for a long, long time. I’m ready to get in line.
I feel encouraged to do more. My new mantra is “Inclusion revolution.” Did you hear that? That’s a phrase I’d not heard before but when I heard it, I wrote it down. And, I’ve been saying it over and over. Inclusion revolution. It’s the drumbeat that I want you to remember today. Inclusion revolution. We are part of this revolution for inclusion. That started six and a half years ago, right? We are willing to take a stand for inclusion in the Catholic church, to not be silent when we witness division or prejudice. We are moving forward despite what has happened. Inclusion revolution, here we come.
Prof. Claude Steele, author of a book on racism tells the story of a black male college student who began to notice that fellow students on campus would avoid him or cross the street to get away from him. He realized from this kind of behavior that they were seeing him through the lens of a negative stereotype about African-Americans in that neighborhood. That perhaps as a young male, black male, he might be violent. And it was making his whole experience tense and awkward. So, he became very creative. He learned how to whistle Vivaldi (a famous Italian composer) to deflect that stereotype. When people heard the classical music being whistled, they said ‘Oh, this is a man of refinement’. And they treated him with respect. Isn’t that crazy? And so brilliant. It’s the world we live in—and need to help change. Here’s Vivaldi. (play) See? We know it too. The book is called, Whistling Vivaldi.
Professor Steele says that no one is immune from stereotype. Every one of us has something that we are judged for. We are all part of some group affected by negative perceptions which I don’t think we realize. Whether it is having a chronic illness or living with a family member who has mental illness, or not being able to lose weight, each of us has felt judged or shamed. And that’s where our compassion needs to come from. A place of discomfort and hurt—That’s where healing is found—when it is joined with another person who is hurting. Together we find a way. Together we find hope. Together we find strength to move beyond fear.
God is with us in this space. God gives us the desire to reach out when we most want to withdraw. That same God who empowered MLK to preach and mobilize others is with us now. She is the God who empowered all those women and men to go to these marches and speak truth to power. This is the God who moves us to an inclusion revolution! A time when we will not go back to our closets or corners of society (or dark movie theaters) but when we give voice to unity. God will help us make a way out of no way. God will help us whistle Vivaldi when we are in doubt. Let’s keep whistling all the way to the Kin-dom. Can I get an Amen? AMEN.
Epiphany—a time of discovery and surprise. The kind of surprise that empowers us—a new meaning that causes us to pause and reflect. Why do we love this holiday? What is it that draws us in? Is it the magi—so closely tied to magic? Is it the stars and their prediction of a child King? Is it the travelers who firmly believed that they would find THIS child, the One who was to bring true peace? There is much in this story that intrigues us and that calls us to ponder. Above all, it is a story of a quest, discovery and deeper meaning—which is all our stories too. We are born, we seek meaning and purpose and we journey to the unknown, questioning, hoping, trusting to make meaning out of life’s mysteries. No wonder we love this celebration, not to mention the hats, the cake, the frankincense.
I can remember when my first son was born. Before that, I had some idea of what love was about, but after his birth, I knew love in a very different way. I felt a deep, fierce protectiveness of him—that no harm touch him. He was that precious. That’s an aha, an epiphany that comes from loving a child. Love itself is a mystery beyond words. We cannot fully name why we love so deeply, why we care so much. That’s the power and the beauty of love. It’s the thread throughout this story of Epiphany.
In Isaiah, we can’t help but get excited. You hear the prophet’s triumphant pronouncement: darkness is conquered, all people are coming together, God is here and all is well. We may need to read this over and over in the next four years. As much as I fear that darkness is settling in, let us take hope in Isaiah’s words. One epiphany I’ve had about this whole Trump election is that now it is in the hands of the people to make change and that may be a very good thing. My son Jon has been working with students from Harvard and Yale and they got 4,000 signatures from health care students that were delivered to Congress last week saying that if the ACA is repealed, there are six issues that must be addressed. How good is that? Our youth are rallying.
Let’s look at the characters involved in today’s gospel: the Magi, Mary and Joseph and of course the child Jesus. The Magi are intelligent men, dignitaries, foreigners who all agree on a theory, an interpretation of the stars and what they mean. They believe so much that they are willing to plan and carry out a long journey, trekking to a faraway place to find a child who is to be great. And the purpose of this quest? To pay homage, to affirm a new truth. Some say it took them two weeks, others say two years. Because so much of this story has been pieced together, we don’t really know, which adds to its allure, its intrigue. What we find riveting is that these magi represent the truth that the love of God is for all nations—the potential for unity for us all. All nations coming together to pay homage to the One, a God whose greatest purpose is that all be One. That’s what Paul reminds the Ephesians—that the Gentiles are heirs to God’s kin-dom. We all are heirs.
Mary is key to this story--how she miraculously delivered her child Jesus in a cave, by herself with no midwife or doctor at her side, with only her husband to help. No medical care, maybe no clean water either. Mary would’ve been careful to nourish her newborn son with her own breastmilk, keeping him warm and clean. Who brought her the water and clean sheets? Joseph must’ve done his part to help. Together they were good partners because they had to be; they enabled Jesus to survive such unpleasant and unclean beginnings. Because of their love and belief in God, they trusted that this child was the One. Some of us parents hold that belief of each and every one of our children—they are special. They are going to do great things. Mary is our model of how to nurture, how to believe in the not-yet.
And then there’s Jesus, a tiny, vulnerable infant, no different from all the innocent baby boys who would be murdered because of Herod’s fear. What made him unique? At that time, before he could speak, it was the belief, the faith of his parents. They made sure he would survive and grow to become who he was meant to be. When the magi arrived with all their entourage, Mary must’ve smiled and felt proud that what she believed was being acknowledged by others, by men of great honor and rank in their countries. She allowed them to pay homage, trusting that they would tell others of his birth—that one day the whole world would know and believe in her son, Jesus the Christ.
Little did they all know that they would be remembered thousands of years later as we do our own searching for God. What are the signs we trust? Is it the stars, the news, the weather? What helps us to be hopeful amidst difficult times. That’s what Epiphany is all about. Helping us to renew our hope that God is with us, here and now. We celebrate Epiphany because it is a story that touches deep within us and helps us to remain hopeful. It empowers us to trust. Finally, it insists that we, like Mary, Joseph and the Magi, devote our lives to a very simple belief, that Jesus is the One, the One teacher who can bring us deeper meaning and life eternal.
So I ask us these questions to ponder: What signs do we follow? How do we commit to a journey towards the Divine? What are the essentials to our journey? What gift will you bring for Christ?
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?