July 28, 2019
BY NICK SMITH
LUKE 10: 38-42
Martha extends hospitality to Jesus and his disciples (38). Mary listens to Jesus’ teachings (39). Martha attends to the duties of hospitality (40a). Martha complains that Mary has neglected the duties of hospitality (40b). Martha asks Jesus to instruct Mary to help her (40c). Jesus responds that Mary has chosen the better activity (41-42).
This little vignette is often used to strike a contrast between two types of behavior: Jesus praises discipleship and learning while criticizing service. Mary chose listening to the teachings of Jesus over helping her sister prepare food. Jesus responded that she was right because only one thing is needed, "one thing" apparently meaning listening to the teachings of Jesus. This is frequently interpreted as spiritual values being more important than material values.
Most clergy jump on the differences between the sisters. Usually, different attitudes of life and faith are expressed through these two siblings: active life against a contemplative life; commitment to the present world against dedication to the world to come; Christianity against Judaism; justification by works against justification by faith; a model of listening against speaking/preaching; etc.
But to me, this is all ridiculous and completely silly in light of Luke’s gospel. After all, Jesus has been gathering followers. He sent out twelve disciples on a trial run to spread his message. Jesus feed 25,000 or so people, gaining more followers, and then sends out another 72 disciples to spread his message to all the villages on the way to Jerusalem. And then he stops by for lunch at Martha’s house? I don’t think so.
I looked up the Greek word-for-word interpretation on line, and here is how this gospel reads: “Now as they went on their way, he [Jesus] entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much [diakoni,a] ministry; and she came to him, and said, Lord, do you not care that my sister regularly leaves me to [diakoni,a] minister alone? Tell her therefore that she should help me. But the Lord answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset/making an uproar about many things: but one thing is needed: for Mary has chosen a good thing, which shall not be taken away from her.”
The traditional gospel reading assumes much and leaves out a great deal; for example, we assume that Jesus and twelve or maybe hundreds of other tired, hungry men showed up on Mary and Martha’s doorstep unannounced. Any decent hostess would be alarmed. But the passage doesn’t state that any other disciples were present. In fact, the conversation includes only two people: Martha and Jesus.
This new reading involves several key arguments. An important one is the translation of diakonia [die-a-cone-ya] as “ministry” instead of “service” in verse 40.
Many translations follow the King James Version in stating that “Martha received him [Jesus] into her house.” But the words “into her house” are not actually in the Greek text; they’re supplied by translators. All the text explicitly states is that Jesus entered a village and was welcomed by Martha.
The crux of 39. The relative pronoun preserved in a widely dispersed set of manuscripts (translates the word kai as “also,” stating that Martha as well as Mary regularly “sat at Jesus’ feet,” a figure of speech denoting discipleship.
Since “sitting at the feet” is a figurative description rather than a literal one, Mary is not necessarily physically seated before Jesus’ feet while Martha addresses him.
“Sitting at the feet,” as in Acts 22:3, is the traditional vocabulary of discipleship. So both Martha and Mary are known as “sitters at the feet” or disciples of Jesus. This is a figurative description, not literal.
Martha addresses Jesus directly in Luke 10:40 because Mary isn’t there. While Martha is struggling to keep up with the local village ministry, Mary is traveling around ministering abroad. Martha wants Jesus to deliver a message to Mary when he encounters her in his travels, asking her to return and assist Martha in the village ministry.
Finally, in verse 42, the translation reads not as a superlative [i.e. the best portion] but rather positively as “a good thing.” In other words, Mary’s choice of ministering abroad isn’t necessarily better than Martha’s choice of ministering to the village; Mary’s choice of itinerant ministry is equally as good.
The only other place we find Mary and Martha is in the gospel of John, chapters 11 and 12. In the opening of John 11, Lazarus is introduced in relationship to his sisters, with Mary being mentioned first. Verse two is apparently a referral to an event that hasn’t happened yet. The reader is reminded that this is the Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Why would the reader be expected to know of this anointing scene, while the story of Lazarus was yet untold? Mary seems to enjoy recognition from some prior activities attached to her.
Moving forward in John 11:31: “The Jews who had been with Mary consoling her, noticed the haste with which she got up and left, and they all followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn.” It is curious that the crowd from Jerusalem kept a more watchful eye on Mary than on Martha. How is it that Mary attracts notice but Martha did not? After all, Martha was able to leave the house earlier to meet Jesus without attracting any attention.
Following immediately after the raising of Lazarus, John [11:45] leaves Martha out of the narrative altogether: “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”
Mary seems to have some recognition from some prior activity attached to her? Apparently, she has a history. It is the reasons for Mary’s almost, but not quite concealed, prominence that raises questions concerning information hidden just beneath the surface. The suspicion is that in an earlier tradition, Mary may have had followers around her who were led to believe in Jesus through her evangelizing. Mary is a leader with Judean followers. Prior to the events of John 11 and 12, Mary had become well-known and beloved with a devoted following.
Mary’s prior reputation and ability to attract a crowd is central to what Jesus is accomplishing in his final and greatest sign at the end of his public ministry. Mary of Bethany is the means through which the Jews arrive for the resurrection of Lazarus. It is Mary who is leading the Jews to Jesus. The climax of the narrative occurs when Jesus prays aloud: “I know that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” This prayer makes it clear that the presence of the crowd is important to the total scene. Jesus had master-planned the entire Lazarus narrative with the goal of bringing as many people as possible to belief through his final miracle.
Therefore, the foundation is laid in Luke 10 and John 11 and 12 to see that Mary of Bethany was recognized in the earliest traditions of Christianity as a person with influence. Jesus took advantage of her ministry and leadership to bring a large crowd of Judeans from Jerusalem to witness his final miracle and witness who Jesus really was. If she had so many followers before the crucifixion, then she could have been more prominent than previously recognized as an early church leader.
There can hardly be any doubt that Luke is responding with this passage to a discussion, or to tensions which have occurred concerning the role and position of women in the church. Luke, with this objective, compiles the extremely short and compact story about Martha and Mary. And he demonstrates that Jesus himself confirmed the position of Mary at the center of discipleship and leadership. And apparently there was need to stress it with great emphasis. I consider the sentence ‘and it will not be taken away from her’, as the main sentence of this passage.
Evidently the forces against women sitting at the feet of Jesus, sitting in the center, were threatening in such a way that Jesus’ words needed to be positioned with such strength at the end of this passage. This last sentence is hardly open to misunderstanding. Jesus confirms, in the strongest possible way, that this position of Mary shall not be taken away from her; that women belong to the center of the movement; that women are supposed to share in leadership. And I would add in the light of today’s discussions within the church that women cannot be denied any role or position in the church, including full ordination into the ministry of the word and sacrament, including being a priest, a bishop or a pope of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. How bitter it is to read the history of the Christian Church and to witness that the Church has done precisely the opposite of what Jesus said by actually ‘taking it away from her’. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to get into the Vatican’s secret archives in their secret library. After all, Hippolytus of Rome, 2nd century Christian historian, calls Martha and Mary of Bethany the new Eve’s and apostles to the apostles before anyone names Mary Magdalene with that title.
Informational sources consulted:
Mary Stromer Hanson
Mary of Bethany: Her Leadership Uncovered
Paper for presentation at Society of Biblical Languages Atlanta, Georgia
Mark M. Mattison
A New View of Mary and Martha
Christian Feminism Today [web site]
July 21, 2019
July 7, 2019
Go out, 2 by 2…
FIRST READING : A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah 66:7-13
Before she goes into labor, she gives birth. Before the pains come upon her, she delivers. Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day, or a nation be mid-wifed in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. “Do I bring you to the moment of birth and not deliver?” says God “Do I, the deliverer, close the womb?”
Rejoice with the cosmic Jerusalem! Be glad for her, all you who love her! Exult with her, all you who have mourned over her! For you will again suckle and be satisfied at her comforting breasts. You will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.
For this is what our God says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the richness of the land like a river in flood. You will nurse and be carried on her arm and bounced on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. You will be comforted in the heavenly city.”
The Word of an Isaian prophet. Thanks be to God.
SECOND READING: A Reading from Paul's Letter to the Galatians 6:2, 9, 14-18
I urge you to carry each other's burdens. In this way, you fulfill the law of Christ. Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. May I never boast of anything except the cross of Jesus the Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. Everything is a new creation! Peace and compassion to all those who follow this law of freedom—in our new Israel. So from now on, let no one make trouble for me. I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. Beloved, may the grace of Jesus the Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
The Word of the Apostle Paul. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL A Reading attributed to the Gospel of Luke 10:1-12
Jesus appointed seventy-two of his disciples and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit on his way to Jerusalem. He said to them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the head of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. "Be on your way, and remember: I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one along the way. Whatever house you enter, say, "Peace to this house!" If the people live peaceably there, your peace will rest on them. If not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, eating and drinking what they give you, for the laborer deserves wages. Don't keep moving from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal those who are sick in that town. Tell them, "The reign of God has drawn near to you." But if you go into a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, "We shake the dust of this town from our feet as a witness against you. But be sure of this: the reign of God has drawn near." On that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than that of such a town.
The Gospel of Our God. Praise to You, Jesus the Christ.
In our First Reading we begin with the idea that God is birthing something new and that God can do it without labor or pain. That’s a novel metaphor for the people who have mainly thought about God as male and authoritative and punishing. So now, Isaiah is trying to capture their attention in a very different way. Would that other biblical authors use feminine metaphors like this, ones that help balance the image of God. Every single person can relate to the miracle of birth and the experience of the woman who labors to give birth. How exciting to introduce the idea that God as woman can birth without pain. This would indeed encourage them to trust in the goodness of God. As any woman who has given birth can attest to, the idea of no pain or labor would be very captivating. One writer said, “The established institutions have been destroyed in the battles of history, but a mother's tender care survives even in catastrophe.” How we long for the softness and nurturing of a mother. It runs very deep in us.
Then, Paul tells the Galatians that we should take care of each other; share each other’s burdens. And that’s how community works; we know of each other’s challenges and we support and pray for each other. But then he links his faith to boasting about crucifixion and I feel myself recoil. There is a clear shift towards violence as being linked with spiritual belief and practice. It’s probably how many Christians began to love wearing a cross necklace; the cross became the key symbol for being a Christian. But LOVE of the cross is how religion twists ideas into bad practices. We should never love suffering, in any way.
Paul goes even further by speaking of the wounds he has suffered already. He says he is branded for Christ. People of that time were literally branded, hot iron to skin, as a sign of ownership; slaves who ran away were then given a special mark of shame so that all would know their transgression. Even growing up, I had this idea that hurting myself, even if it was just fasting, was somehow a good thing as a Catholic. Thankfully, this was long before cutting became a thing and I realize that that’s a symptom of mental health issues as well. But, I think of myself as a young, obedient girl and how much I struggled to understand this idea of suffering for God. Every Sunday I watched as my mother beat her breast after receiving communion whispering, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” How I hope we are very clear that this is not something God wants. I challenge us to call out whenever we see victimhood being uplifted as part of Christian faith.
Finally, in our gospel, Jesus sends out 36 partners into the world. He tells them very briefly how to behave and he knows the risks because he says, “as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Their only consolation is that he’s coming after them. So they are to pave the way, in a sense. But when is Jesus coming? That unknown factor could be terrifying. The one saving grace is that Jesus says that they are to “heal those who are sick.” They must’ve been given that ability. That will certainly help. But there is so much left unsaid.
For me, the whole significance of today’s reading is the importance of relationship. We need one another. We are not to go out into the world or life, alone. Having a committed partner is what enables me to be more safe and to figure it out. We can discuss what Jesus would do in each situation. We can encourage and affirm each other. And together, we represent the basis of Christianity. Partnership, two working as one. That balance and that essential part of life and transformation. I need at least one other person to help me grow and become.
Did you notice how the disciples are to come upon a house and upon entering the home say, “Peace to this house.” Then, they are to sense if it is in fact a house of peace. “Your peace will come back to you” if it’s not a house you should stay in. Come back to you? How would that feel? I have a sense that it would be fairly obvious; that there would be no immediate response of hospitality, no offer of a drink, but rather that cold feeling of anger and hostility and judgment. From such a house and town, they were to shake the dust from their feet at such unwelcomeness, almost like healing touch where the bad energy is shaken off in order for the person to be released from it. Move on without trying to educate these people. Are they our Trump supporters? On the 4th of July, I received a group text from one of my friends who may be married to a Republican. It was a photo of a home that had all the military services flags flying in tribute. One person replied: “Great display. Proud to be an American!” I was so close to texting, “Really? Have you seen the photos from Texas? The camps and the conditions we are illegally holding people in?” But, I didn’t. Instead, I wrote, “Happy 4th.” Period.
And just today, our women’s soccer team won the World Cup. One of the main players said she will not visit the White House. She used some colorful language for this to emphasize how strongly she feels about Trump’s treatment of those who are different. One of Meagan’s colleague’s said she won’t go either. ”I refuse to respect a man who warrants no respect.” Ali Krieger said. “Staying silent can sometimes mean siding with the oppressor so I wanted to be clear in my support of Meagan.”
So How are we being sent out into the world? I don’t tend to promote our beliefs in a vocal or overt way. My Twitter account is barely breathing. I was never raised to evangelize. So how else can we speak our truth to power? Maybe I should’ve used that group text to say, “Being American is difficult when our values are not upheld.” Gentle but clear. I want to try to step up to the challenge more in a non-violent way; to help God birth something new. It may not be painless but I believe it’s necessary. Instagram? What’s your method? What do you want to help birth?
Sunday, June 23, 2019
This miracle of feeding thousands is found in all four gospels, so it must be important. It is, however, not the miracle that is important but the lesson taught.
The disciples have returned from their mission, bragging.
They’ve been on a trial run, a sort of pre-game scrimmage
Later, in chapter 10, Jesus sends out 72 disciples with the same instructions to spread his gospel, cast out demons and heal the sick.
The disciples are both exhilarated and exhausted.
And Jesus is dealing with grief. He has heard of John the Baptist's
He asks the disciples to join him in a solitary place where they can rest and regroup together.
Mark tells us: "But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd...." (Mark 6:33-34) As weary as he and his disciples are, Jesus doesn't turn them away. He begins teaching them. Jesus doesn't minister out of obligation or duty or habit. So for hours and hours, Jesus teaches and heals in this lonely place and speaks from his heart to the huge crowd about the kin-dom of God.
In each of the Synoptic Gospels the disciples come at the end of a long day and ask Jesus to close the meeting. “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” This has been no planned gathering. It has been spontaneous, spur of the moment. The crowds have given no thought to provisions or distance. Their only thought has been to hear Jesus and see him heal others. Now they are miles from home and the sun is beginning to set. What's more, there are about five thousand men, according to Matthew, "besides women and children" or about 20 to 25 thousand people.
Jesus' reply is startling! "You give them something to eat." Why does Jesus respond this way? The Feeding of the Five Thousand is a test? For whom? Not for the crowds, but for the disciples. They had a very important lesson they must learn. But first, they must be guided to the point that they realize the utter inadequacy of their own resources. In Mark and John we hear the disciples' protest: "That would take 200 denarii, they complain—“eight months of a man's wages. They don’t have that much money. The lesson that Jesus is about to teach his disciples is one of my favorite Old Testament stories—the lesson of Gideon's army (Judges 6-7).
God raises up meek Gideon to challenge the oppressing Midianites
Gideon sends out a call for the men of Israel to gather for battle. Thirty-two thousand respond, but the Midianites have 150,000 men.
Then God says to him, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into your hands."
So Gideon tells the men that any who is afraid of the coming battle is free to go home, and more than two thirds of his army walk away and return home.
What can they do with only 10,000?
But God says, "There are still too many men," and tells Gideon to keep only the men who drink water at the creek like dogs. When all is said and done, only 300 are left.
Gideon is down to 300 men in the face of 150,000—500 to one.
Just about the same as Jesus' disciples with five loaves and two fish to feed a multitude 5,000, plus thousands of women and children—pretty grim. Perhaps, only now are the disciples prepared to see what God can accomplish with what they DO have. So Jesus pushes the disciples even further. Mark records his discomforting question: "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." You don't have thousands of dollars, but what DO you have? Check your resources and tell me what you DO have. They find a boy that has five small loaves of bread and two fish. They know this isn't enough food.
Until the disciples are willing to commit what they DO have to the enterprise, Jesus waits. Their contribution and commitment of it must be part of the solution, however tiny and inadequate. Then, Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven; he gave thanks and broke them. (9:16a) Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people." (9:16b) A few thousand baskets later, and a lot of breaking of fish and bread, the people had eaten their fill. Breaking, carrying, distributing, and then back to Jesus for more food.
The disciples are very tired by now, but Jesus gives them one further task -- to pick up the broken pieces of bread that are scattered over the hillside. When their task is completed they come back with twelve baskets full. Why does Jesus have the tired disciples do this? It is to make the point that God's provision that day has not been merely adequate, but more than enough to meet the need. Each disciple can feel the weight of his basket of bread as they bring it back to Jesus and recognize the abundance of that day.
Like Gideon, the disciples learned to trust God step by step. If the angel had told Gideon that he would defeat the 150,000 person army of the Midianites with just 300 men, Gideon would have had an impossible time believing this was possible. God led him step by step. Paring down the army in such a way that Gideon knew God was in control. The purpose for having such a small army was that God wanted Israel to know that it was God, and not Gideon and his men, who defeated the enemy (Judges 7:2). So, Gideon and his soldiers smashed their jars and blew their trumpets and the Midianites fell into confusion, killing each other and running headlong to their deaths.
The feeding of the thousands was for the disciples and our benefit. Jesus could have created bread at the snap of his finger -- poof. He didn't need the disciples' pitiful five loaves and two fish. But they -- and we -- needed to learn a very simple lesson concerning the principles of our faith.
1. Our resources are inadequate to meet the need.
2. We are to take inventory and bring what resources we have to Jesus.
3. We place them in Jesus’ hands to do what he wishes with them, and in the process, release control to him.
4. He in turn blesses them and places them back in our hands, multiplied.
This is a faith process, a faith experience. Too often we are overwhelmed with the vastness of the need and give up. Or we belittle our resources to the point that we never release them to God, but selfishly hang on to them because that is all we know and all we have. Or we insist that God perform the task alone, without us participating in the process even in a tiny way.
But Jesus teaches that we must release our resources to God in trust. Their smallness in our eyes must not be an obstacle. If we could learn this vital lesson, we could accomplish wonders. It is the lesson of Gideon seeing his small and inadequate army whittled down to a pitiful 300 men, but they accomplish a great victory. It is the lesson that you and I face more often than we would like to admit.
Jesus asks the disciples a small question -- but a vital one for us: "How many loaves do you have? Go and see."
Then, take those resources and give them to Jesus and watch them multiply through your efforts. It is an essential lesson. If we learn to trust in God, then we will experience the joy of being basket-bearers of Jesus-empowered food to the multitudes. And we'll be there to pick up the left-over pieces and marvel at the weight of God’s abundance. I think I saw this lesson in action last Tuesday when Full Circle provided diner for the residents of Emerson Point.
Pentecost June 9, 2019
FIRST READING: A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-14a, 15-18
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room. Suddenly, they heard what sounded like a violent, rushing wind from heaven. The noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting. Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. They separated, and came to rest on the head of each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were devout people living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven. At this sound, they all gathered. They were bewildered to hear their native languages being spoken. Amazed and astonished, they remarked, “Surely all of these people speaking are Galileans! How is it that each of us hears these words in our native tongue? We are Parthians, Medes and Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, as well as visitors from Rome. We are all Judeans, or converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, too. Yet we hear them preaching, each in our own language, about the marvels of God!”
In awe, but perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them, and said, “They’ve had too much wine.” Peter stood up and spoke: “These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine o’clock in the morning! No, this is the fulfillment of what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: In the last days, says God, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young ones will see visions; the older among you will dream dreams. Upon all my servants, both men and women, people of all genders, I will pour out My Spirit in those days. They will prophesy. Then, everyone who calls on the Name of God will be healed together as one.
The Word of an Early Church Historian.
SECOND READING A Reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans8:22-26
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. We ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we groan inwardly while we wait to be birthed into wholeness and for the transformation of our bodies. Waiting in hope is a redemptive process, but hope in “the seen” is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? If we do hope for what we do not see, we wait for it eagerly in perseverance. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our tender fragility. Although we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
The Word of the Apostle Paul. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL A Reading from the Gospel attributed to Luke 24:36-49a Glory to You, O God.
While the disciples were still talking about Jesus appearing to some of their number ,the risen Jesus stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I! Touch me and see! A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” After saying this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish. He took it and ate it in their presence. Then the Risen One said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then Risen Christ opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, saying “Thus it is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day. A call to repentance and a proclamation of forgiveness would reach all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things. Behold, I send forth the promised Spirit upon you.”
The Gospel of the Resurrection. Praise to You, Jesus the Chri
Technically, this is supposed to be open mike Sunday. But it’s difficult not to preach on Pentecost Sunday. So this will be shorter but I hope will lead to discussion.
Context is everything. And I believe that there is much we don’t know about Pentecost Sunday that can really affect our appreciation and understanding of it. First of all, did you know that Pentecost Sunday is also known by many other names? That’s because it was not a new feast for the Jewish people. They were already celebrating Pentecost before Jesus. It was known as the Festival of Weeks, the First Fruits Feast, Harvest Feast. The celebration of the Barley Harvest came first. Then, 50 days later or 7 weeks later, came Pentecost, the celebration of the Wheat Harvest. The Hebrew word is Shavuot. Shavuot was big deal—it was a time to praise God for the harvest in the fields, for God’s bounty and graciousness.
On Pentecost, the High Priest was to take two loaves of freshly baked wheat bread and offer them before the Lord. The wheat bread was made from the newly harvested wheat. So, Pentecost in the time of the Apostles was a great and grand harvest celebration. The streets of Jerusalem were clogged with thousands of pilgrims who had come from all overe to celebrate the goodness of God and the bringing in of the wheat harvest. That’s why all those diverse people were there in the streets when the disciples went forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and everyone could hear them in their own language!
Pentecost is also known as the Birthday of the Church. It has been said that Peter’s testimony on that day brought 3,000 new converts into the fold. Thus, the church was born on that day. I love that our church was born very near this time, on June 13, 2010. We had already been meeting in each other’s homes before this which was very Jewish of us. Now, it’s been at least twelve years that we’ve been gathering to bring a new church into being. Except it’s not a new church. We are the church of radical love that Jesus envisioned. We are the church of inclusion, not power and hierarchy. We are the church of the people, all with a voice and a vote. We practice as Jesus would want us to practice, with open arms, open doors, and open hearts.
Notice how Jesus created a new community of faith, a new way of being church. He was working to make love become the foundation of any faith practice. Jesus finds the disciples in a fog, clearly stunned or in denial, just stuck with what to do. When Jesus encounters the disciples in the Upper Room, you can hear his frustration. . It’s me! It’s me, he keeps saying. Why are you so troubled? Wake up! This is happening. You may have lost your way. You may have been searching for the way out, for how to move forward. This is it. I am here and I am choosing you for the task. Once you receive the Spirit, you will have no fear and my message will be taught over and over again. Let’s do this!
Those tongues of fire from our First Reading is the passion of the Spirit, so intense it burst into flames. After that, the disciples went forth; they moved from fear and doubt to impassioned, devoted preachers, itinerant preachers who knew that their mission was to teach what Jesus taught: love of others at all costs, everyone has value and devotion to God brings us more in line with why we are here in the first place: to learn to love, more deeply and less selfishly.
A word about speaking in tongues. This is where it gets its origins. I believe that there are times when we are so moved by the Spirit, that regular words don’t suffice. So we babel. (Remember the Tower of Babel?) In some instances, people actually speak a different language, one that they never learned before but that is understood by others.
Last week was Ascension Sunday. So Jesus has gone back to heaven and we are left to complete or continue his work here on earth. As Catholics, we are privileged to have Eucharist at every weekly celebration. Jesus chose the Festival of Wheat to begin the church. He knew what bread meant to the people—life, growth, prosperity. No wonder he chose bread to become the receptacle for his ongoing Spirit. We are fed by his bread to go out and change the world. Happy Pentecost, you faithful followers of Jesus! What’s most important is that we remember this feast day AND we move forward. There is no hope in looking back at what was, like the disciples were doing in their grief. We must look forward and move in that direction. May God keep us moving as we do this!
In what ways are you able to live the Gospel? How does Jesus continue to work among us to move it forward?
May 26, 2019
JOHN 14: 21-29
I heard this story the other day: There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What is water?”
The point is that it's easy to forget that what surrounds you is only normal because it's what you know. The most obvious, ever-present, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.
In today’s gospel we find Jesus reassuring and directing his disciples about how to carry on after his departure. He is going to be united with the Creator, but they are not invited. Not only are they not invited, Jesus is leaving them in charge. No wonder the disciples were starting to feel abandoned, like orphans. But not so fast! They would not be left alone to fend for themselves, nor are we! No, part of the good news of Jesus’ departure was that it would make way for the arrival of
another Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them always, not only when Jesus was physically present...which means that even for us, who were born far too late to encounter the earthly historical Jesus, the Holy Spirit is present, active, and available.
According to John, another Paraclete comes to abide with us and to speak on Jesus’
behalf; to teach and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us, to reveal truth and testify on Jesus' behalf, to keep alive all that Jesus said and did. And yet, in the Roman Catholic Church, we tend not to focus much on the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that is why it can sometimes be so difficult for us to discern the Spirit’s presence in our midst. The Spirit has been with us since birth. We may never have known what it was like to physically walk the earth with Jesus, but, like the air that we breathe, we have never been without the Holy Spirit at our side.
We are familiar with the Trinity, but perhaps the most stunning feature of today’s Gospel is what is termed the Quattrinity. In John, Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between him, the Creator, and the Spirit [Sophia Wisdom] also includes believers. The believer does not stand close by admiring the majesty of the Trinity; rather, we are an equal part of it; therefore, we as believers don't "imitate" Jesus; we participate in him. The pinnacle of the passage is this: "Those who love me will keep my word, and the creator will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." Everything that matters, that is, ultimate intimacy with God and Christ, is available now. God is not holding out on us in any way--You see the Holy Spirit guarantees that present believers have no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. Everything they were taught and they experienced is available to the same degree and with equally rich texture to us.
The problem with us, however, is that we can’t see It—this quattrinity relationship between us and God. We are like those fish asking, “What is water?” Yet, It is here, all around us, within us and within each other. We are so amerced in the quattrinity of the Creator, the Word, Sophia Wisdom and ourselves that we do not realize that it even exists. We’ve been taught by the Church that we are outsiders looking in on the mystery of faith, when, in reality, we are an integral part of that very mystery.
What appeared to be bad news to the disciples, namely Jesus' departure from them, turned out to be the best of news for both them and us. While Jesus walked the earth, his ministry was limited to one locale and only a few people. Upon his departure, his disciples are given the Spirit and moved from apprentices to full, mature revealers of God's love. And this happens not just to the first disciples, but all those who would come later.
What should we do with this quattrinty relationship we have with God? How should we conduct our faith and reveal God’s love to others? According to James Carroll in the recent article in The Atlantic, June 2019 issue, distributed by Mary Kay Kusner, “To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands.” What Vatican II did not do, or was unable to do, except symbolically, was take up the issue of clericalism—the vesting of power in an all-male and celibate clergy. Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction.
What if, the article asks, multitudes of the faithful, appalled by what the sex-abuse crisis has shown the Church leadership to have become, were to detach themselves from—and renounce—the power structure of the Church and reclaim Vatican II’s insistence that the clerical power structure is not the Church? The Church is the people of God. Catholics should not yield to clerical despots the final authority over our personal relationship to the Church. We must refuse to let a predator priest or a complicit bishop rip our faith from us.
Replacing the diseased model of the Church with something healthy will involve, unauthorized expressions of prayer and worship—having nothing to do with diocesan borders, parish boundaries, or the sacrament of holy orders. That may be especially true in so-called intentional communities [like RCWP] that lift up the leadership of women. These already exist, everywhere. No matter who presides at whatever form the altar takes, such adaptations of Eucharistic observance return to the theological essence of the sacrament. Christ is experienced not through the officiant but through the faith of the whole community. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “There am I in the midst of them.”
This is already happening, in front of our eyes. Tens of millions of moral decisions and personal actions are being informed by the choice to be Catholics on our own terms, untethered from a rotted ancient scaffolding. The choice comes with no asterisk. We will be Catholics! We do not need anyone’s permission. Our absence from officially ordered practice will go on for as long as the Church’s rebirth requires, whether we live to see it finished or not. As anticlerical Catholics, we will simply refuse to accept that the business-as-usual attitudes of most priests and bishops should extend to us.
The Church, whatever else it may be, is not the organizational apparatus. It is a community of memory, keeping alive the story of Jesus Christ. The Church is an in-the-flesh connection to him—or it is nothing. The Church is the fellowship of those who follow him, of those who seek to imitate him—a fellowship, to repeat the earliest words ever used about us, “those that loved him at the first and did not let go of their affection for him.” The church is the quattrinical relationship between the Creator, the Word, Sophia Wisdom and us.
And so, like the fish, we must become aware of our surroundings, reminding ourselves over and over: This is water. This is water. Our relationship with the Trinity is about the real value of a real faith, which has almost nothing to do with doctrine, and everything to do with awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over that this is our faith. We must remind ourselves again and again that we are amerced in the mystery of the Trinity, guided by the Holy Spirit to discern our relationship to God on our own.
Sunday May 19, 2019 Do You Love Me?
FIRST READING: A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 8:26-39
A messenger of God spoke to Philip, a disciple, and said, "Get up and head south. Go to the road that leads out from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This road is called the "Way of the Desert.") Philip got up and set out.
Now an Ethiopian, a eunuch and an officer in the courts of the Kandake, Queen of the Ethiopians, had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He was in charge of Queen Kandake’s entire treasury. After worshipping in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian was returning home in a chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit spoke to Philip and said, "Go! Join up with that chariot."
So Philip ran up to it and heard the Ethiopian reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The official replied, "How can I, unless someone helps me?" The eunuch invited Philip to get in the chariot and sit down. The passage of Scripture was this: "Like a sheep, God's servant was led to the slaughter. Like a lamb silent before its shearer, your shepherd did not utter a word. A great and humble leader was humiliated. Justice was denied. Who can describe the generation that permits this? A life has been taken from the earth."
The Ethiopian said to Philip, "Tell me, about whom is this prophet speaking? Is it about Isaiah himself, or about someone else?" Then, starting with that passage, Philip began to interpret the Word, proclaiming the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the Way of the Desert, they came to some water. The Ethiopian treasurer said, "Look, here's some water! What is to prevent my being baptized?" Ordering the chariot to stop, the eunuch, together with Philip, went down to the water. There, this high official in the courts of the Ethiopian Queen was baptized. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit swept Philip away. The Ethiopian saw him no more and continued on the way, rejoicing.
SECOND READING: A Reading from the Book of Revelation 21:1-6
Then I saw new heavens and a new earth. The first heavens, and the first earth, had passed away. The sea was no more. I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of the skies, adorned as a couple ready for their wedding day. I heard a loud voice calling: “See, the home of God is among human beings. God will dwell among them. They shall be God’s people, God with them, Immanuel! God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and sadness and pain will be no more. The old order, the world of the past is gone.” Then the Holy One said, “See I am making all things new. Write this down, for these words are sure and true: It is completed! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To all who are thirsty, I will give water from the well-spring of life as a gift.
The Vision of a Late First Century Writer, known as John.
GOSPEL: A Reading from the Good News attributed to John 21:15-19
After the disciples had breakfast with the resurrected Jesus on the shore where they had been fishing, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, do you love (agape) me more than the others?"
"Yes, you know that I love (philo) you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my lambs." Jesus then asked a second time, "Simon, do you love (agape) me?" "Yes, you know that I love (philo) you."
Jesus said to him, "Shepherd my sheep." Then Jesus asked him a third time: "Simon, do you love (philo) me?" Peter was upset that Jesus asked a third time, "Do you love (philo) me?" so he said to Jesus, "You know all things. You know that I love (philo) you."
Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."
"I tell you the truth. When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished; but when you get old, you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then Jesus said to Peter, "Follow me."
The Gospel of the Resurrection.
Last week we made a prayer blanket. It was black and white. I remember saying that it looks like it needed to be colored. Well, I gave it to a woman who doesn’t have long to live. Her two granddaughters painted her nails the same color as theirs and their moms. Then, they got fabric markers and colored their grandma’s prayer blanket. It was the most loving act. That’s love. Staying when you are so sad and want to protect yourself.
Today we hear about two kinds of love: agape and philo/phileo. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Some think that the three times is because of Peter’s three denials. But today, we have a differentiation of love in Greek and it makes all the difference.
Agape love is the most powerful, noblest type of love: sacrificial love. Agape love is more than a feeling—it is an act of the will. This is the love that God has for us. It may be the kind of love we have for our children, one would hope. Certainly, when they are young and vulnerable, I believe we have that capacity. We would give our lives for them. Yesterday, I met a couple whose daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer at 4 months of age. She is now 15 months old and today they will take her off life support. That takes a kind of selfless love for sure. I cannot imagine that kind of a decision to make as a parent.
Jesus was agape love personified. He lived with a sense of generosity of spirit, aware of other people’s pain. Most of us shield ourselves from such pain. But I believe that agape love is our intention, our hope to fulfill.
Philo love refers to brotherly love and is most often exhibited in a close friendship. Best friends will display this generous and affectionate love for each other as each seeks to make the other happy. I think we have this kind of love in our community here. It’s the love that helped us make a prayer blanket for that grandma. It’s how we take part in social justice.
So, if we read the gospel with this understanding, it’s sad to see that Peter is not responding to Jesus with the kind of love Jesus invites him to. Is he not capable of responding with the kind of love, Jesus expects? Jesus use of agape love repeats twice. When he sees that Peter cannot respond with agape love, he meets Peter where he’s at—philo love. It’s both sad and generous. And it speaks volumes for us today.
It may take a lifetime to live full agape love. Jesus seems to understand this and cuts Peter a break, so to speak. Does Peter notice this? Do the disciples understand? If they do, it’s never spoken about. It remains for us to see the challenge for ourselves, that we can grow towards agape love; that is our hope for us as Christians.
Did you notice that there is also a difference in Jesus’ response to Peter? At first he tells Peter to tend his lambs, the younger sheep or newbies of the faith. Then, he tells Peter to also take care of the sheep, those more mature in their faith. Finally, he tells Peter to tend his sheep, similar to what he said the second time. He wants to make sure that Peter realizes the responsibility he is placing on him. It also speaks of the expectations for us as the sheep—we grow from lambs to sheep, we mature in our faith.
Finally, Jesus ends with an ominous prediction of Peter’s future; that he will be taken where he doesn’t want to go. Perhaps it means that he will become capable of going where God wants him to go. None of us, when using our human instincts can do agape love, not on our own. We need God’s grace. Always. Which is why we take heart from the words of our second reading where Jesus says, “See I am doing something new. Do you not perceive it? There will be a time when God will live with us, when agape love will be the norm and unity and peace of all humans will happen. It seems impossible as do many things with God, but that is our hope. We are part of this process of growing into full and everlasting peace. Learning to love with agape love is an essential part. Amen.
“Spirituality without a prayer life is no spirituality at all, and it will not last beyond the first defeats. Prayer is an opening of the self so that the Word of God can break in and make us new. Prayer unmasks. Prayer converts. Prayer impels. Prayer sustains us on the way. Pray for the grace it will take to continue what you would like to quit.”
― Joan Chittister, In a High Spiritual Season
Sunday, May 5, 2019 On the Road to Emmaus
FIRST READING: A Reading from the Book of Acts 9:10-19
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Risen Christ called to him in a vision, "Ananias". Ananias answered, "Here I am." The Christ said, “Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying. In a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay hands on him, that he may regain his sight.” But Ananias replied, “I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” But the Risen One said to him, “Go, for this Saul is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, rulers, and Israelites. I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
When Ananias entered the house where Saul was staying, he laid his hands on Saul with the words, "Saul, you are kin to me through Jesus the Christ. I have been sent by the Christ, who appeared to you on the way here, to help you recover your sight. Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized. When he had eaten, he recovered his strength.
The Word of an Early Church Historian.
SECOND READING A Reading from the Book of Revelation 4:1-3, 6b-8
After the letters to the seven churches were opened and read, I looked. There, in the heavens, a door stood open. The first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, spoke again: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place.” At once I was spirited away. There in the heavens stood a throne, with one seated on the throne. The one seated there looked like jasper and carnelian. Around the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Also around the throne, and on each side of the throne, were four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like an ox; the third living creature had a face like a human face; and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Holy God, Supreme in Love, Who was, and is, and is to come.”
The Vision of a Late First Century Writer, known as John.
The Good News attributed to Luke 24:13-33, 35
Glory to You, O God
Two of the disciples were making their way to a village called Emmaus - which was about 7 miles from Jerusalem - discussing all that had happened as they went. While they were discussing these things, Jesus approached and began to walk along with them, but they were kept from recognizing Jesus. Jesus asked them, “What are you two discussing as you go on your way?”
They stopped, grief stricken. One of them, Cleopas by name, asked, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have happened these past few days?” Jesus said to them, “What things?” They said, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet, powerful in word and deed in the eyes of God and all the people - how our religious authorities and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. We were hoping that he was the one to set Israel free. “Besides all this, just today - the third day since these things happened - some women of our group brought us some astonishing news. They were at the tomb before dawn and didn't find the body. They returned and informed us they had seen a vision of two angels who declared that Jesus was alive. Some of our number went to the tomb and found it just as the women said: they didn't find Jesus.”
Then Jesus said, “How misguided you are! How slow of heart you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Did not the Messiah have to suffer all this and then enter into glory?” Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted for them every passage of Scripture which referred to the Messiah.
By now they were near the village where they were heading, and Jesus appeared to be going farther. But they said eagerly, “Stay with us. It's nearly evening. The day is practically over.” So Jesus went in and stayed with them.
After sitting down with them to eat, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, then broke the bread and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened! They recognized Jesus, who immediately vanished from their sight.
They said to one another, "Weren't our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us along the way and explained the scriptures to us?" They got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem. There, they found the Eleven and the rest of the disciples assembled… The travelers recounted what had happened along the way as they left Jerusalem, and how they had come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
The Gospel of the Resurrection.
Why do we love this story so much? I love today’s gospel because it is so common, so casual and yet so powerful and surprising.
Today’s Gospel tells us about two very unhappy people, Cleopas and his companion, who was probably his wife, although has been called another “man” by theologians for centuries. It would not be uncommon for a couple to be returning to their home. And, when they arrive they invite Jesus to stay with them because they are the hosts, the owners of the home. This is what a couple would do; not two male friends. Just saying…. So this couple are returning home after a horrific week of highs and lows. Starting with Palm Sunday and ending with the crucifixion and then the waiting. They were grieving. Everything. Their hopes, their dreams for a new future was gone. Jesus was dead and had not risen. They knew his body was missing but what did that mean? And, it was the end of the third day or Easter afternoon. So, why not go home? What’s there to stay for now?
Then, they encounter a man, a man who seems to know nothing of what has just happened. Impossible, they think. And isn’t it strange that in that same day, Mary of Magdala and now these two do not recognize Jesus? What does he look like? How is the resurrected Christ so different from whom they had followed and heard speak for the past three years. So, they do not know it is Jesus. They are only too willing to tell him all about himself. He listens. Then, his patience has ended and he gives an impassioned rendition of what his whole life has meant. Didn’t you get it? How could you doubt?
Even as this amazing person details Jesus’ life, it never dawns on the couple who he might be. They never put two and two together? How would a stranger know so much? But isn’t that just like us. We are often too busy and distracted by life. We aren’t giving our best attention to the very things we should.
I’s not until Jesus breaks bread that they see. It is in the sacrament of Eucharist that Jesus is revealed because that is what he has left us as his memory; his living memorial. It’s the meal, a time when we are fed and nurtured; something we do every day, something we can’t live without. And it’s when we are most broken, that we can more often recognize that God is here, with us. But often afterwards, right? Maybe when we are on the verge of healing.
Then Jesus vanishes. Gone. Poof. I cannot imagine the mixed emotions that these two disciples must’ve felt as they realized what they had not realized all along. How could we be so close to reality and yet so far away. Their grief was healed in that instant. Quickly they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others. Some say it was 7 miles, others say more like 20. The town of Emmaus no longer exists so we can only guess its exact location. But they were clearly overjoyed and anxious to tell the good news. The eleven had to hear about this.
Truly these two were to become the example of what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. Their sight had failed them in truly seeing. And even their faith was beginning to waiver, which is probably why Jesus responds with such fervor. Let your faith be enough! You will be tested again and again, he seems to say.
Has your heart ever burned within you? Burned with a passionate knowing beyond what is logical or expected? I can remember when Patricia Fresen (the matriarch of the RCWP movement) spoke and how her words affected me. She told her story of being ordained and then being asked to be ordained a bishop for the US. She knew her call. And her Dominican nun family rejected her. She was so stunned that her sister nuns of 45 years would not agree with her that women should be ordained. They were following the party line. It was then that her new life started with RCWP.
After her emotional story, she asked the audience if anyone felt called to the priesthood. I could feel this deep well of yes-ness coming from deep within. It’s a scary, wonderful feeling—that yes-ness because I knew it’d been part of me for a long, long time, just waiting for a time to be affirmed. And here it was!
It's those times when we can’t fully explain why but we just know something is true or right because it comes from within us. It’s part of our being, perhaps the deepest part of our being, the source, who is God. Whenever we feel that knowing, we can be certain it is from God. And that’s when we have to make the choice to believe regardless of what comes next. The choice to believe and become fulfilled.
For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
April 28, 2019
2nd Sunday of Easter Homily
By Nick Smith
Joyce and I for many years did little projects with the grandchildren for Christmas and Easter in an attempt to make sure that the kids understood the significance of these important Christian holidays. One Easter we had those stained glass crafty things that the kids colored into a stained glass sun catcher. I had carefully written little stories and pieces of information explaining the resurrection. After all the activities, I asked my grandkids, “What do you think was said when people first saw the risen Jesus?” My 3 year-old granddaughter, Aleah, shouted, “Surprise!” Caden thought maybe they said “happy birthday?” (so much for my lessons on the significance of Easter) When I think about it, though, I think maybe they were both actually right—it was certainly a surprise, and it was certainly the birth date of the Christian religion.
In today’s readings we see the risen Christ. Saul [Roman Paul] is struck by the vision of light and the voice of Christ asking why he is persecuting Jesus and the church. Having seen and heard, Paul believed in the risen Christ. John of Patmos sees the risen, glorified Christ in his vision. John already believes in the resurrected Christ because he has seen him, but, now, he sees a vision of God as the First and the Last, as the living One of all eternity—alive forever! Then in today’s gospel we see the faith of Christ, the faith of Christianity and the faith of the resurrection.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
The four gospels place the following women at the crucifixion and at the tomb.
Mary the mother of Jesus [cross]
Mary Magdalene [cross and tomb]
Mary the mother of James and Joseph [cross/tomb]
Salome, mother [James and John] [cross/tomb] maybe sister of Mary or Jesus
Joanna [cross/tomb] Junia and Andronicus [Andrew] Paul’s letter to Romans 57
Mary of Clopas [cross]
and "other women" who followed Jesus out of Galilee [cross and tomb]
Mirianne – Sister of Philip and Bartholomew, Martha – sister of Lazarus, Mary – sister of Lazarus, Miriam [possibly Mary’s sister or Jesus’s sister], Arsinoe,
Susanna, Pricilla, Tavitha, Lydia, Phoebe, Tryphena, Julia, Nympha, Apphia, Thecla, Veronica
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
These women were not stupid or confused. They went to the last place they had seen Jesus: the tomb where Nicodemus and Joseph had placed the body. These women had gotten up early because, with love and honor, they didn’t want to leave his body in the tomb without proper burial preparations. When they got there, surprise! Nothing was the way they thought it would be. The guards were gone, the stone rolled away, and inside they found the burial wrappings scattered about.
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!
Doesn’t this sound like a rebuke or a sarcastic remark? The angels imply that these women should have known better than to come to the tomb looking for a dead Jesus. They should have known that Jesus would be alive on this morning—Jesus had prepared them for this morning. Again and again, from Galilee to Jerusalem, He had told them how he must suffer, be crucified and rise on the third day.
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
Perhaps they should have understood and trusted Jesus’ promise, coming to the tomb with hope and joy, but as soon as the angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, they remembered and they realized that Jesus had indeed risen. They believed by faith alone and not by sight. It is interesting that in this gospel, the women do not see the risen Christ, but they still believe. Also note: the women were among the apostles (or were apostles) when Jesus taught about his death and resurrection because they “remembered” Jesus’ words—words that he only told his apostles.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the “others” with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Jesus has risen, the women report, but no one believes them. Not only are the women considered unreliable witnesses in Jewish culture, they don’t have any proof—there is no body. In Latin, the term is Habeas corpus…”show me the body.” The disciples don’t believe [won’t believe] until they have some sort of empirical truth of resurrection. Even if one uses the gospels where Mary Magdalene and other women report that they have seen Jesus and spoken with Him, habeas corpus is still the stumbling block—don’t tell me about the body, show me the body.
Eventually, as we know, that’s what happens. Jesus appears to the disciples individually, in the upper room, by the Sea of Galilee and they believe. It is easy to believe when you see because seeing takes away all doubt. Seeing is a fact and takes no faith to believe. In this gospel, however, the women at the tomb do not see and yet they believe so intently that they report the resurrection as a fact.
And now we must ask: what about these women at the tomb of Christ? After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other women went to see the tomb. They barely had time to process the sight of Jesus’s tomb when their world was turned upside down again. Indeed, the very earth could be said to be turned upside down herself.
The earthquake, the angel, the blinding clothes, the paralyzed guards, one sensory shock after another, piled up, with no time to process what it all meant. And now the tomb is open, maybe they could go and sit with him, see him, touch him one last time. But this creature who is not of this earth speaks… Fear not. They were way past fear. And then, those words: He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. This is the gospel. This is the heart of our faith.
Matthew’s gospel has the angel saying: He is not here; He has risen, just as He said! Come; see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ [Matthew 28: 6-7]
Come, see the place where he lay, then go and tell… “Come and see” is an invitation to experience that death and remember it. And where did Jesus lay?
Jesus lay at the place where the poor and dispossessed are ground underfoot by the powerful and power hungry. Jesus lay at the place where people of one race, religion and ethnicity dominate people of another race, religion and ethnicity. Jesus lay at the place where the unjust render judgment over the just. Jesus lay at the place where police brutality goes unchecked. Jesus lay at the place where capital punishment is used to shape the social order, executing the innocent and guilty alike. Jesus lay at the place where the cost of protest and resistance was death. Jesus lay at the place where bodies kept falling in death because Rome kept killing, kept crucifying. Come, see the place where he lay, then go and tell…
Go and tell his disciples… “His disciples.” Mary Magdalene will come to be known as the Apostle to the Apostles, but the gospels hoard the title “disciple” for men. Jesus also lay at the place where hierarchies were challenged, rejected and reasserted. So God appointed women to witness to the resurrection, women who could not legally testify to anything. In the place where Jesus lay there were hierarchies within and without. Some gospels will have men come and see the place where Jesus lay, but they will not understand—they will not believe.
And men will believe the male disciples, and the movement they start will embrace the old hierarchies and the empire that could not hold Jesus in death, excluding women in the very church built by women’s labor. People will remember the names of the disciples who were neither at the cross nor at the tomb, but the women who were at both will be collapsed into a cloud of Mary’s.
The angel sent the women to proclaim the gospel in a world in which crucifixions continued and violence between persons and between nations has never abated. We are called to proclaim the gospel in this world where we have closed our doors to refugees while we bomb them at home. We are called to proclaim the gospel in this world where our nation was built on stolen land and builds walls rather than come to terms with the plight of others. We are called to proclaim the gospel in this world where immigrants are welcome as long as they are white and Christian. We are called to proclaim a gospel so radical, so threatening to the entrenched powers that they will do anything to hold on to their power.
From the Garden of Eden to the hill of Golgotha to the open tomb comes the Easter message that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross and at the tomb for all people. It is up to us to regain what has been lost and return to the roots of our Christian faith—to celebrate the birthday Christianity and the surprise of the resurrection.
Sunday, April 21, 2019 EASTER SUNDAY
Second Reading: A Reading from a Letter of Paul to the Romans 6:3-4
Don’t you know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into Christ’s death? We’ve been buried with Jesus through baptism, and we joined with Jesus in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by God’s glory, we too might live a new life.
The Word of the Apostle Paul.
Thanks be to God.
Gospel Reading: The Gospel of the Resurrection, attributed to John 20:1, 11-18
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.
Mary stood weeping beside the tomb. Even as she wept, she stooped to peer inside. There she saw two angels in dazzling robes. One was seated at the head and the other at the foot of the place where Jesus’ body had lain. They asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She answered them, “Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I don’t know where they have put the body.”
No sooner had she said this than she turned and caught sight of Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus. He asked her, “Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”
She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She faced him and said, “Rabboni!”—which means
Jesus then said, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to my loving God. Rather, go to my disciples and friends. Tell them, “I am ascending to my loving God, and to your loving God, my God and your God!’”
Mary of Magdala went to the disciples. She proclaimed the good news, “I have seen the Teacher!” She reported what he had said to her.
The Gospel of God.
Praise to You, Jesus the Christ.
Homily: Last week I received an email from one of our members, David Fitzgerald that had a cartoon. In the cartoon there is a gathering of people. On the left are three women from the time of Jesus and on the right is a large group of men and the leader says, “So Ladies, Thanks for being the first to witness and report the resurrection and we’ll take it from here.” It made me roar with laughter because of course that’s exactly what’s happened, right? (Naked Pastor is actually David Hayward who has left the church; that explains a lot.) Then, I heard about popesplaning—having to explain the words of a pope because they are so crazy, they truly make no sense but bishops want to try to cover the embarrassment. This has to arisen from Pope Benedict’s recent writings which I sent our recently. Emeritus can mean many things; in this case it means go back to your retirement.
Today’s gospel is the reason we are here. This cartoon reflects it nicely. Because the men have tried and failed, it’s time for change. It’s the reason we are members of Full Circle, and it’s how we’re going to change the church. RCWP proclaims that Jesus commissioned women when he told Mary to “Go to my disciples and friends. Tell them, “I am ascending to my loving God, and to your loving God, my God and your God.” Jesus appeared to Mary first! This is the reading of the resurrection that is not read in the traditional church, and if it is, they typically stop before verse 12 before Jesus appears to Mary.
They want the focus to be on Peter, the man, right? Peter should be the important one here not Mary so let’s “rewrite” the story or leave out important parts or only read the parts that fit with our version of the Church. Mary is clearly given direction to tell the men what she has seen and heard. Jesus first reveals himself to a woman. That’s significant. We believe it is a commissioning, a sending forth to preach the good news. And yet, the traditional church says, “No. Women are not allowed to be priests. They are not allowed to preach from the pulpit. They have other gifts. If women are called to be priests, it must be their delusion, their mistake, not ours.”
Mary is told to go tell the others, the men who are in hiding for fear of being killed themselves, the ones who came earlier only because Mary had seen that the tomb was empty. Once they saw for themselves, yep, empty tomb, they go back into hiding. They have stopped looking for Jesus but not Mary. She continues to seek Jesus. Jesus appeared to Mary because she was looking for him. In her grief, she wanted to know where he had gone. “Where have you laid him. Tell me and I’ll go to him.” Like Mary, we need to know who we’re looking for? Who are we longing to see and follow for the rest of our lives?
Mary was so surprised once she realized it was Jesus. He simply says her name, “Mary.” “I know you Mary. I know your grief, your heart, your hopes. It’s all going to be okay now. Tears are for the dead, not the living. I am alive again”. What an incredible moment of changed awareness. I didn’t know this could happen! You said it but I didn’t know it meant this! You are back with us, never to leave us again.
The men stopped looking for God and have been using themselves to promote the Church. This maintains their power and authority. Often, we must ask ourselves, who is our authority? Mary gets it right.
We are reminded of God with us, all the time, if we are looking for Her. Think of the many times when you arrived at just the right time. This has happened to me often in the hospital. I’ll decide to take the stairs and get off on this floor and there is the wife of the man who just died. What are the odds? So often, I’ll be in the right place at the right time—and I give thanks because I know it’s not something I could’ve orchestrated. I know that God is with me, and whatever the encounter, it’s going to be okay now.
My favorite surprise of God with us was the birth of two of our sons on Easter. That was not supposed to happen, right? But it has anchored me in my Christian faith. Anna was due on Easter, but she had to do her own thing because that year I expected it to happen. Maybe it’s why I love Easter so much; my experience of new life was tangible, made real, twice. Many of Matt and Jon’s birthday celebrations included an Easter egg hunt. Like Mary of Magdala, the kids were looking for something, not as big as a risen Jesus, but you have to start somewhere.
We can help bring these God encounters to people by living with deep compassion, as Jesus did when he met the grieving Mary. “I’m so sorry. Life is tough. I’m here for you.” Whenever we encounter the stranger and offer compassion, we, come to know them as like us and God is there. Whenever kindness happens, God is clearly at work. God is waiting to be discovered by us in times of encounter, when we engage with those on the margins, those who have been told they are not welcome or worthy. Be delighted when it happens—it’s a mini-resurrection experience.
I continue to search for God, mostly because I’ve learned that Jesus was the Master of Love, the one who has shown me how to do it better, more readily and without so much baggage of my own. Just when I think I might explore some other spiritual leader, I come back to Jesus. Christian, yep that’s who I am. I believe in a suffering God who places love before all else. It’s why I get so angry when people pose as Christians but have no idea how to love. Jesus teachings are radical—they were then and they remain so today, unfortunately. Someday these lessons will be learned by humankind and there will be peace around the world. In the meantime, we may need to cry like Mary did when all seems lost. Ultimately, we will come back to this story again and again because it reminds us of what can be, it reminds us of what love can make possible.
For whom or what are you looking? Do you want to find meaning in your life? Are you looking to love more authentically? Do you want to discover more? Jesus’s questions continue to guide us today. We need not cry nor fear. We can trust that with Jesus, we are learning to love, in ways that will sustain us during dark times all the days of our lives. That’s resurrection—death is not the end, fear cannot prevent us from living a life of love, a life of discovery and of encounter with the Risen God. As for the cartoon, we are the women and men who respond, “Sorry guys, We have some better ideas. We have found God!” Amen. Alleluia.
Sermon Luke 13:1-9 March 24, 2019
By Nick Smith
Today’s readings raise considerable questions, especially the gospel. I mean, on the one hand, Jesus says that the view of God, based on a system of reward and punishment—a belief thatsuffering is a consequence for sin and prosperity is a reward for righteousness—was incorrect. On the other hand, in the midst of deconstructing this theology, Jesus seems to create a new system of the same sort—repent and you will be saved; don't repent and you will perish. It sounds like that reward and punishment thing to me all over again.
These apocalyptic warnings of "repent or perish” have endured for thousands of years. Every time there's a disaster, it is declared to be God's punishment on the perceived sins of people. The terrorist attack of 9/11 was God's judgment on abortionists, feminists and gays. Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment on New Orleans for their gay pride celebration. Hurricane Sandy was due to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the re-election of Obama. Hurricane Maria was God’s retribution for electing Donald Trump. The recent terrorist attack in New Zealand was the fault of Chelsea Clinton’s remarks against anti-Semitism.
Scapegoating entire groups of people by blaming them for disasters is nothing new, and this is a dangerously simplistic theology that demonizes entire groups of people and leaves us asking "Why do bad things happen to good people?” "Why do the wicked prosper?” and "Why doesn't God intervene in obvious situations?" The concept of reward and punishment is an archaic way of viewing God's action in the world and it is simply not true. Christians seem to be drawn toward anything that’s punitive, shame-based, exclusionary of the “wrong” people, or anything that justifies the status quo. They tend to emphasize the almighty, all-powerful nature of God, who is made into the Great Policeman in the sky. God does not work that way and the most frustrating part of it all is that Jesus has already addressed this failed theology.
In John 9, Jesus walked by a man who was blind from birth and his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" And Jesus rejected the premise of their question and said, “neither this man nor his parents have sinned." It is overly simplistic to make a direct link between sin and suffering; Jesus had no patience for the kind of theology that scapegoats people
and blames them for the tragedies they face in life. A similar exchange took place in today’s gospel where a group came to tell Jesus about an event where some Galileans were murdered by Pilate while offering their sacrifices to God.
It didn't take long for Jesus to respond. He attacked their presumptions directly and said, “Do you really think these Galileans suffered in this way because they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Jesus was trying to overturn their view of God, based on a theology of reward and punishment. In frustration Jesus said, “No, and unless you repent, you will perish as they did.” Then Jesus used another example. He said, “Those eighteen who were killed when the tower fell on them—do you think they were worse offenders than all others living in Jerusalem? No, but unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.
Ok, I get it. There is no relationship between wrong-doing and the events of our lives. But I’m still stuck with the same Baltimore Catechism concept that unless one repents they will perish. If you’re good, you go to Heaven, and if you’re bad, you go to Hell. Jesus’ reply, however, to the crowd and the fig tree parable focused on the concept of repentance.
Repent: English language dictionary definition
to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life, to feel sorrow, regret or contrition for one’s sins, to feel sorry, self-reproachful, or contrite for past conduct, to regret or be conscience-stricken about a past action, attitude, etc., to remember or regard with self-reproach
6th definition - to change one's mind
How can “repent” mean to “change one’s mind”? In Greek, the language of Luke’s gospel, the word repentance is metanoia [me-ta-noya]. Meta means "change" and noia means, "mind" or “heart.” The word refers to a change of mind, a new way of seeing, and the discovery of a different perspective. What was translated intoEnglish as ‘repent’ is not a moralistic concept or a mea culpa at all; it is a clear strategy for enlightenment in the world.
As Richard Rohr puts it, "Jesus' very first message in the Gospels, which is usually translated as "repent," is the Greek word metanoia, which quite literally means to "change your mind”. Jesus’ first word to us was "change"—and a mind change at that! So we have a theology based on a mistranslated word from the gospels; therefore, Christians use the English definition of repentance—an expression of regret, or being filled with shame, or tormented by guilt, to distort Jesus’ true intent and desire for the people of God’s Kin-dom.
Metanoia cannot be reduced to a conversion, or a confession of sin. It refers to a reoriented self, a new consciousness, and an entirely new worldview. At its root, repentance [metanoia] is about thinking and perception. It refers to a wholesale change in how a person understands something. It implies an utter reconfiguration of your perspective on reality and meaning, including a reorientation of yourself toward God and other people. Even Jesus changed his mind:
Matthew 15: Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away,for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Jesus changed his mind after this encounter with the Canaanite woman and opens the Kin-dom of God to the gentiles. Your behavior might change as a result of a new perception, certainly; but repentance first involves seeing things differently and coming to a new understanding of what God makes possible. It is not a one-time act that we do before we get “saved.” It's a practice we do every day. It's a way of life—constantly changing our minds.
Jesus was telling the people who came to inform him about the sins of the Galileans that they needed to change their thinking. They needed to stop focusing so much on the sins of others and stop trying to make sense of all the violence of the world through a simplistic theological system. Jesus understood that this way of thinking about God and others was literally fruitless. It would lead them to become dogmatic, obsessed with doctrine, apathetic, indifferent, and stubborn—much like Church hierarchies today. It would produce nothing but frustration. They needed a new way of thinking and that is why Jesus told the parable of the barren fig tree—to change their perspective. Jesus was trying to illustrate to those who were attached to an erroneous theology that they needed to stop talking about other people's sins and start bearing fruit. They needed to begin to live in the kin-dom of God and the only way to do that was to be liberated from this closed theology and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.
“Repent” is a beautiful and sacred invitation to us, not a command. Not a warning. And definitely not a form of punishment or condemnation, meant to shame us into feeling bad or remorseful about our failings. When Jesus preached about repentance, he was inviting us to allow our conscience [our minds] to guide our moral judgement. We have to unlearn (repent – change our minds) as we follow Jesus, and we have to continue to learn from Jesus (“the way, the truth, and the life”). We are disciples who are learning and unlearning at the same time. We are learning God’s ways, and we are unlearning our own.
I invite you to take just a moment to think of the ways you have changed your mind over time concerning God’s truth, your understanding of God, your understanding of other people and your understanding of God’s Kin-dom.
Love is Not Logical
Sunday, February 24, 2019
FIRST READING A Reading from the First Book of Samuel 25:2-23, 32-34
David went down to the Desert of Maon. There was a wealthy property owner in Carmel who had a flock of 300 sheep and 1,000 goats. It was shearing time. The owner was named Nabal and his wife was named Abigail. Abigail was an intelligent and attractive woman, while Nabal, a Calebite, was unattractive, surly, mean, and difficult. Learning that Nabal was shearing, David sent ten younger attendants with greetings, saying, “Long life and good health to you and your household! Good health to all your flocks! I see that you are shearing. When your shepherds were in our area, we were hospitable to them, and never did they find anything missing while they were staying in Carmel. Ask your herders and attendants and they will confirm what we say. Be kind to our troops, for this is a festive season. Please donate to them what you can manage.”
When David’s troops delivered David’s message to Nabal, they paused for a response. Nabal answered, “Who is David? Who is this child of Jesse? In our times, many servants flee their owners. Am I to take my bread, my water, and the meat I slaughter for my shearers and give it to strangers?”
David’s troops returned to David. They reported what the wealthy herder said. David responded immediately by strapping on his sword and commanding, “Everyone, strap on your swords!” About 400 went up with David, while 200 stayed back to guard their supplies. One of Nabal’s attendants told Abigail, “David sent a delegation from the desert with greetings to Nabal, but he insulted them. They were very good to us when we had our herds in their territory. We found nothing missing and they did not mistreat us. The whole time we were there, they formed a protective wall around us night and day. What can we do? For it is certain that disaster threatens. Nabalis so stubborn no one can reason with him, even at a time such as this.”
Abigail quickly collected 200 loaves, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five measures of roasted grain, 100 bunches of raisins, and 200 cakes of dried figs, which she loaded on donkeys. Saying nothing to Nabal, she instructed her attendants, “Move out ahead of me, and I will follow you.”
As she traveled on her donkey, hidden by the hills, David and his troops met her on the road. David said, “It was a waste of our time to protect Nabal’s property in the desert. He repaid us with evil for our goodness! David swore a solemn oath, “May God do the same to me and more if I leave even one of his men alive by morning.” When Abigail spotted David approaching, she quickly dismounted and prostrated herself in homage before him, saying: “Please sir, place the burden on me. Please allow me, your humble servant, to speak. How can you even take notice of this wretched Nabal? He embodies the meaning of his name, ‘Fool’. He is a fool! I, your servant, missed seeing your messengers when they arrived.”
David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the God of Israel, who today sends you to meet with me. Blessings to you for your good sense. Blessings to you for saving me today from the guilt of bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as God lives, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would have been left alive at daybreak.
The Word of an Ancient Historian
SECOND READING A Reading from the First Letter of Peter 3:8-12
Please, all of you, be of one spirit. Be sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble. Never return evil for evil, or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing. You were called to do this, to inherit a blessing yourself. For, “Whoever would love Life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil words and the lips from deceitful talk. They must turn from evil to good. They must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of Our God turn toward justice, and the ears of Our God hear the prayers of the just. But the face of God is unseen by evildoers.”
The Word of an Early Church Pastor
GOSPEL The Good News attributed to Luke 6:27-38
“To you who hear me, I say: love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you. When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give them the other. When someone takes your coat, let them have your shirt as well. Give to all who beg from you; and, when someone takes what is yours, don’t demand it back. “Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what merit lies in that? Even evildoers love those who love them. If you do good only to those who do good to you, what merit lies in that? Even evildoers do as much. If you lend to those and expect repayment, what real credit is that to you? Evildoers lend to other evildoers, expecting to be repaid in full. Love your enemies. Do good to them. Lend without expecting repayment, and your reward will be great. You’ll rightly be called children of the Holy One, since God is good even to the ungrateful and the wicked. “Be compassionate, as your loving God is compassionate. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Pardon, and you’ll be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you: a full measure—packed down, shaken together and spilling over—will be poured into your lap. For the amount you measure out is the amount you’ll receive.”
The Gospel of God. Praise to You, Jesus the Christ.
I’ve entitled my sermon, “Love is not logical.” Time and again, we see how illogical love is, and that’s the point. Our instinct is always, always to use our anger to destroy, to fight back, to respond with vengeance and retaliation. It’s part of our human nature to fend for ourselves, to survive no matter what. So, when Abigail meets David on the road in our First Reading, she is trying to interrupt his instincts. She has good food to please his belly, to help slow him down, to shift the adrenaline that is poised on murder. Perhaps, because she was beautiful, David was willing to stop and hear what she had to say. (Unfortunately, David had an eye for pretty women. Remember Bathsheba?) It’s a pity that beauty was so important to a woman in that era. But, it was often all she had to get the attention of a man of power. Then, she could offer her wisdom. She could be heard.
Abigail knew she had David’s ear and that he was listening to her. She builds a bridge by agreeing that her husband is a fool. He was a fool, mostly for not realizing that his wife should be his consultant. Instead, Abigail had to sneak out of the house, without Nabal knowing she was gone to help rectify his blunder. Nabal then, was ignorant on two fronts; for not respecting his wife for her wisdom and for not taking seriously the visit by David’s attendants. Nabal hears their request for a donation. Afterall, they had protected him and his people. He acts as if he doesn’t know who David is and blatantly disrespects what David had done for him. He is offensive, as is his nature. No effort to pause and consider what has been said, just a knee jerk reaction of anger to these men. Once this message reaches David, he is enraged.
But, thanks to Abigail and her intervention, David doesn’t just back down, he admits how his anger had gotten the best of him. He thanks Abigail for saving him from the guilt of what he was about to do. How amazing is that?
I’ve never heard the story of Abigail before, have you? This is why we use our RCWP Comprehensive Lectionary. Once we are able to hear the stories of lost women in the Bible, it affirms our abilities as men and women to effect change. We want to be wise like Abigail and not act out of vengeance or foolishness. Abigail paves the way for Jesus’ message of love.
(Before we go on, I have to tell you what happens to Abigail and Nabal. Nabal got drunk that night, and Abigail didn’t tell him what she had done. Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him what she had done, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died. Then, David asked Abigail to become his wife. Abigail agreed and became his third wife.)
In our second reading, Peter is pleading with his followers to be in relationship based on love and unity. He knows how fragile such love is in the world, that we must protect it. He says, “Be sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble.” These are the essentials of any good relationship. Can we give each other the benefit of the doubt, that we have good intentions for one another? Do not be so quick to judge or to assume injustice. Once that anger starts, we often find ways to keep it burning. We feed on being in the right rather than pausing and gently shifting our mindset. Perhaps this is because we do not believe we are God’s beloved. We prefer the quick satisfaction of putting someone else down because it makes us feel better. But not for long. Just as David realized he would have had to deal with guilt, most who act on their anger regret it. There are so many stories of road rage, which is anger unleashed in such a violent way. Adults acting like children in real-life cars that can kill. Which is why Peter is pleading with us. Please, be of one mind; the mind of love.
Jesus’s lesson today is probably his most radical message. I cannot imagine what the people who first heard his words must’ve thought. What? Did he just say that I should turn my other cheek to a man who has struck me? How strange? Why would I do that? That doesn’t make any sense. Love is so illogical.
Then, Jesus says the key phrase of his argument: “Even evildoers love those who love them.” That’s so easy, so simple, so logical. Can you do what’s much more difficult? Can you mature and rise above the logic of anger? Can you take responsibility for being a more loving person? Can you interrupt your instinct to react? It must’ve caused many of them to walk away, shaking their heads, saying, “What a crazy man. Too radical for me. Love like that doesn’t make sense.”
We know that love like that doesn’t make any sense. Love like that is ultimately what brings us the most challenge and the most reward. It’s that secret recipe for change. And it takes practice, practice, practice. Count to 10. Pause. Wait. Don’t say that mean, awful thing you want to say.
I spent a lot of time this weekend chipping away at ice on my driveway and sidewalks. Trying to get to the concrete. I wonder if we need to find those relationships that have iced over and find ways to begin chipping away at the resentment and anger. Eventually we will get to the core of what Jesus teaches; love and forgiveness go hand in hand. Love and gentleness work best together. Love is not logical but it’s what calls us to our best selves. Love makes our relationships work and that helps to deepen our commitment as Christians, to eventually change the world through each act of love.
Who do you need to forgive? What does love call you to do that’s not logical?
February 17, 2019
Homily Nick Smith
Todays’ readings center on the basic concept of trusting in God, rather than the things of this world. These small sections provide a brief insight on the problematic areas of living a moral life in a world that is so overshadowed by wrongs and superficiality.
Jeremiah 25: 2-34
The folly of trusting in humans is contrasted with the wisdom of trusting in God. The kingdom of Judah was committed to ba’al-zebub [Beelzebub] or Idol worship.
Judah trusted in an alliance with Assyria and Egypt for their protection against the Babylonians. Jeremiah warns that trusting in anything but God will bring ruin upon the people of Israel. They do not heed his warning, were destroyed by the Babylonians and taken into captivity.
It is not wrong to trust people, but it is wrong to trust IN people—to invest our deepest faith in others or to derive our dearest hope from false idols—to give them the place in our hearts that rightfully belongs to God—is not the way to live. We must make a choice. We can trust in flesh and objects or we can trust in God. We cannot have it both ways. To turn toward something other than God is to turn away from God. We can’t face both directions at the same time.
1st Letter of Peter 3: 8-12
The Christians in Asia Minor were being slandered and maligned. Death does not seem to have been a threat at that time. Still, the loss of friends and family connections would be cruelly felt by people whose identity and security were embedded in a community that now ostracised and slandered them. As wonderful as a new life in Christ is, the cost of converting was high for some Christians, and some converts felt pressured to return to their former life.
Peter says, “Living for Christ is the best life you can have, and it always includes suffering.” You can’t escape it. What it comes down to is this—society or Christ? So what if they threaten you because of your faith? Peter’s answer is clear: “Don’t be ashamed.” Trust in God, keep your eye on the prize and don’t fall prey to the things of this world.
Gospel—Luke 6: 17-26
In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of “Beatitudes,” but in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus drops a series of bombshells. He takes the accepted standards of the times and turns them upside down: To those who are considered the “haves” of society, Jesus warns “Woe to you!”—wealth and power are not the stuff of the Kin-dom of God; but to the “have nots,” Jesus says, “Happy and blessed are you” – love, selflessness, compassion and generosity are the treasure of God's realm. Jesus promises his followers poverty, suffering, persecution and grief -- but their hope in God will be rewarded with perfect and complete joy.
In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus challenges us to put aside the “woe” of self-centeredness and embrace the “blessedness” that can only be experienced by seeing ourselves, not as the center of the world but as a means for transforming the world for all. Luke's version of the Beatitudes challenges everything our consumer-oriented society holds dear. While wealth, power and celebrity are the sought-after prizes of our society, the treasures of God's Kin-dom are eternal, lasting and transformative. In freeing ourselves from the pursuit of the “things” of this world, we liberate ourselves to seek the lasting Kin-dom of God.
In this first lesson, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those people who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. Immediately we see that there is something radical here. From the world’s standards those are the very people who are not blessed. Our culture would say that the rich, full, happy and liked are the folks, who have been blessed, and Jesus says something else; to make sure we understand that He’s not mistaken, He says the same thing in a negative way. What He does is declare woes, which is the opposite of blessed, on the ones who are rich, full, happy, and liked.
Ultimately, the question is…Will you be happy with the world’s riches or will you hold out for a greater treasure, namely, Jesus Christ and the Kin-dom of God?
Whichever it is, today’s reading is a core teaching.
Jesus begins by describing how the Kin-dom works. He says, the poor and hungry are blessed, while those with plenty of money and food are not. That sounds great if you’re poor, but does it jive with our experience? How do we make sense out of this contradiction between Jesus’ teaching and the world around us? Some say that yes, bad people may win sometimes on Earth, but after death, the good will be rewarded and the wicked will be deprived. Or that after the Second Coming, everyone will get what they deserve. But there’s a far more radical understanding of what Jesus is saying. In Luke 17, Jesus says it flat out: “The kin-dom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kin-dom of God is among you.” The Kin-dom of God is here now, among us, in us, if we live the way Jesus describes. And what is that description:
Don’t seek wealth, excessive comfort, security or frivolous happiness. Approach everyone with love — non-judgmentally and with an open heart — whether family, neighbor or stranger, friend or enemy, whether you think they’re worthy, whether you find them grateful or know them to be sinners. Love everyone!
Cultivate presence; be here now, fully alive, seeing and feeling the truth in front of you. Measure success, not in power or possessions, but in living in harmony—giving and receiving love and being of help to others.
No one does this perfectly, but to the extent we do, we are blessed. Blessed in scripture is rendered happy, not shallow happiness but the true happiness that comes with living from the heart, connected to God and those around us. Blessed doesn’t mean, live this way and you’ll be rewarded or praised; it means you are truly happy through living this way. So, the poor are not happy as a reward because they have suffered; the poor are happy because they’re connected to God.
What Jesus is telling us is profoundly more countercultural than some idea that eventually the poor will rise up and win a victory over the rich. He’s saying the game is a lie. Stop playing it! Not just the game of materialism, of consumer culture, but the game that the sick and handicapped are being punished, and the view, prevalent then and still common today, that those right with God will prosper on Earth, with its implied judgement that those struggling may not be right with God.
Jesus is saying, No! The ones in union with God are the poor and the marginalized. Join the poor by giving up your attachment to possessions and your illusion of security; join the poor by putting your focus instead on relationships and dependence on God, and then you will be truly happy.
But then Jesus says, if everyone loves you be worried, and if you’re reviled celebrate, because folks admire the wrong people anyway. Over and over, throughout the Gospels, Jesus focuses not on behavior but on living from the heart:
on loving people, all people, not things and reputations,
on restoring and strengthening your connection to God, and
on being fully alive and present.
on living in the Kin-dom of God today.
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Feb. 10, 2019
The History of Women Deacons
FIRST READING: A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that the Ruler Uzziah died, I saw the Holy One sitting on a throne, high and lofty. The hem of God’s robe filled the Temple. Above, seraphs were in attendance. Each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. Calling out to one another, they cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the God of the Cosmos, whose glory fills the earth.” The threshold shook to its foundations at the sound, while the Temple began to fill with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me! I am doomed. For I am of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. Yet my eyes have seen the Ruler of all, the God of the Cosmos.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding a live coal which the creature had taken with tongs from the altar. With this, it touched my mouth and said, “Look, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has fled. Your misdeeds have been blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of God saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I, send me!”
Second Reading: A Reading from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 15:1-11
Dear ones, I want to remind you of the gospel, the good news I proclaimed to you. You made this good news your own. You have taken your stand on it. If you hold firm to the word that I proclaimed to you, you will be free; you will not have believed in vain. What I received I also passed on to you at the outset: that Jesus died as a servant of all, according to the Scriptures; that he was buried; that the Christ was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures; that the risen Christ appeared [to Mary Magdalene]* and Peter, then to Jesus’ closest followers; that the risen Christ later appeared to more than 500 of the disciples at the same time, most of whom are still living, although some have since died; that the risen Christ spent time with James and all the rest of the apostles who were commissioned to continue Jesus’ good work; and that, last of all, the risen Christ appeared to me, as to one untimely born. I am the least of all the apostles and don't even deserve to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God; but, by God's grace, I am what I am. This grace was not without effect, for I have reached out to the Gentiles more than all the others. Yet it was not I who did it, but God's grace that was in me. So, whether you heard it from me, or from the others, it's all the same. This is what we proclaim. This is what you believed. The Word of the Apostle Paul. Thanks be to God.
Gospel Reading: Luke 4: 38-44
On leaving the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and his family. Simon’s mother-in-law was in the grip of a high fever. They asked Jesus to help her. Jesus stood over her and rebuked the fever. The fever left her. She got up immediately and “deaconed” to them, served them at table. At sunset, people who had a variety of diseases were brought to Jesus. He laid hands on each and cured them. Demons departed from many, crying out as they did so, “You are the Chosen One of God!” Jesus rebuked them and forbade them to speak, for they knew he was the Messiah. The next morning, Jesus left the house and went to a desert place. The crowds followed. When they found Jesus, they tried to keep him from leaving them. Jesus said, “I must proclaim the Good News of God’s reign to other towns too. That is what I was sent to do.” And he preached in the synagogues throughout Judea. The Gospel of Our God. Praise to You, Jesus the Christ.
Today I want to share with you the history of women deacons in the church. Growing up I never heard that there were women deacons. I knew about male deacons but we never had one in our parish. More recently, married male deacons are becoming more common. Are you aware that the wife of a deacon MUST attend all classes that her husband attends but is never able to become a deacon herself? Such is the ongoing injustice of our church.
Sadly, the Catholic church ignores that there is a woman deacon listed in scripture. Her name is Phoebe and she is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 16, verses 1-2. Isn’t that incredible? She’s been there all along. Others, we’ve had to search for like in today’s gospel reading. Thus, there is no question that there were women deacons in the past, both in the Eastern and Western churches.
The story of Peter’s mother-in-law being healed and then “serving” Jesus and his disciples is really a story about the impact that women had on the Jesus Movement from its very inception. The Greek word used by this evangelist was already, at the time the Gospel was written, a word describing a formal ecclesial office of deacon. The audience would have heard the verb “diakonos or deaconing” used in reference to Peter’s mother-in-law in this context. Wealthy women patrons, often widows, played an indispensable role in the expansion of Christianity throughout the Greco-Roman world. So, Peter’s mother-in-law was probably a widow, living with her daughter and son-in-law because she wouldn’t have had anywhere else to go. Or they could’ve been living in her house, if she had wealth. Women who had influence (typically because of an inheritance or being highly intelligent and becoming influential) became involved in political and administrative leadership within the earliest Christian communities, including presiding at Eucharist in their homes, at least during the late first and early second centuries. In some places, including Rome, enrolled widows were accepted as a part of the clergy, Throughout the Gospels and even into Acts, we are told of the role that women played in not just preparing meals and tending to the needs of Jesus and the disciples, but also how they gave of their sometimes significant financial resources to make sure the ministry tour could continue. The Marys, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, Lydia, and the daughters of Deacon Philip all play integral roles in the spread of the Gospel during Jesus’ life and well into the first generation of the Church.
Numerous references to women deacons appear in epigraphs, letters, chronicles and, most importantly, ordination rites for women deacons in the Western and Eastern churches. The Greek word used in scripture is diakonos which means servant and has no gender association. This is the same word used for those servants at the wedding feast at Cana who helped Jesus to fill up the water jars.
Not until the third and fourth centuries did the role of deaconess appear, specifically women deacons who were chosen as women to help the male priest. These women were almost invariably either widows or celibates who had chosen some form of the monastic life. Their duties largely consisted of charitable works and participating in the baptisms of adult women, in the days when immersion baptism was universal and it would have appeared scandalous for a male priest to immerse a naked woman. These deaconesses sometimes assisted priests at the liturgy—a not uncommon practice among nuns whose only male contact was their priest. Women deacons did what all deacons do, provide service to community, preach and help at eucharist. They cannot consecrate the Eucharist or confer absolution for confession or do anointing of the sick but they can perform weddings.
What is key is that the order of deacon arose out of a need for more help in spreading the gospel. Each community could determine the need and ordain accordingly. Thus, some women deacons were married and had children, some were virgins and remained so, others were married to male deacons and chose to both be celibate. Thus, celibacy was not an issue.
Deaconesses disappeared from both the Western and Eastern Orthodox Churches during the Middle Ages, when the office of “deacon,” with its specifically liturgical functions of preaching and reading the Gospel, became a formal part of Holy Orders and thus open only to men.
And so here we are, at a time when most Catholics think that having women deacons would be radical change. In truth, it’s simply coming full circle to the way the church was. We’ve continued to go even further from they way things were in recent days with the story of Pope Benedict having closed a convent in France because the nuns there were raped by priests. This was in 2013 but was kept silent until now. Silence is commission; it allows such horrific abuse to continue elsewhere without any consequences.
In the RCWP movement, we have only had trasitional deacons, that is, those on their way to priesthood are ordained as deacons first and then, typically a year later, as priests. Sadly we had a woman who approached our region requesting to be ordained as a permanent deacon. Since I was the program coordinator at that time, I took her request to the region for discernment. After several meetings and some heated discussion, a vote was taken. I was in the minority being in favor of a permanent diaconate to respond specifically to a woman’s call, whatever that call may be. My sister priests felt that it was creating more clericalism, to have another role that was not leading to priesthood. Thus, I had the awful task of being the messenger for this woman, to tell her that “no, we would not honor her call to becoming a deacon.” Even in movements where inclusion and integrity are promoted, there can be a difference of opinion.
What I am proud of as RCWP is that in our ordination rites, we do not pledge obedience to the bishop. We pledge obedience to God and to God alone. When we lie prostrate on the ground, the bishop is off to the side so that it is clear. This is an integral change and one of the reasons we may never see eye-to-eye with Rome.
Still, it is women like Peter’s mother-in-law, nameless but still seen and honored in today’s gospel who can help to change the church. May we see the option of women deacons come to fruition in our lifetime as a very hopeful stance by the church in reclaiming its history. We praise Phoebe and all the women who have led the way towards true equality as what God’s plan has been about from the start.
SERMON BY NICK SMITH
LUKE 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21
Jesus delivers the shortest sermon in history: “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.” That was it! Jesus offered no illustrations, provided no definitions, didn’t deliver a single joke and neglected to relate the liturgical reading to one’s everyday life. Apparently, Jesus thought that his message was clear enough. Next week we will learn what the congregation of Nazareth thought of Jesus’ sermon, but I’ll leave that for next week. For now, let me just say that even though we’re reading this passage two thousand years after Jesus gave this short sermon—the sermon remains the same: “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”
And what does this scripture say? Good news for the poor, release to captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and what is called the Year of Jubilee! This Year of Jubilee was set at every seven years and every fifty years. No business as usual can be done—slaves must be set free, families can return to any lands they lost, farmland and fields are given a rest, debts are cancelled, there’s to be a moratorium on marketing. The Jubilee Year is to be a little taste of the kin-dom of heaven. Liberation, restoration, equalization: a whole array of social justice revolutions.
This Scripture is Jesus’ agenda, an outline of his ministry, the foundation of his gospel. This Scripture is Jesus’ inaugural address, his vision, his challenge to each one of us – and it is all about our connection to the poor and the marginalized. That relationship is the essence of Jesus’ politics – and so it must be at the core of ours as well.
There isn’t a word in Jesus’ inaugural address about anything but social justice issues: there is no talk about the sanctity of private property, the glory of a free market economy, no talk of sword rights, nor building a wall, or eating fish on Fridays. It's all about how society is to be changed--how there's to be a kinder, gentler more equal society.” Jesus presents his politics, his gospel and the foundation of his ministry through a reading from the Prophet Isaiah.
When I say politics I’m including not only elected officials and the governmental process, I’m also including you and me, the opinions we hold, the decisions we make, and the ways we relate to one another. Regardless of what politics might mean today and regardless of how it’s practiced today, it’s most basic concern is about the ordering of relationships. It’s about the way we live together and how we get along. It’s about people. Those concerns are central to the practice of Christianity. We believe that God has something to say about how we live and the way we relate to one another. We open ourselves to God’s ordering of our lives and relationships.
Jesus’ political identity begins not with party affiliation or constituents but with his baptism. From there he was led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he overcame the great temptations and corrupters of all politics: materialism, power, self-interest. He left the wilderness empowered by and filled with the Spirit and taught in the synagogues of Galilee. The people liked what they heard. Jesus “was praised by everyone.”
Then, Jesus comes to Nazareth, the town where he grew up, to the synagogue where he worshipped, and to people who know him. His words describe his politics. They are not campaign promises but a present reality, a reality made present in Jesus. Those words from Isaiah and Jesus’ comment on them are the first recorded words of Jesus’ public ministry. The words Jesus read from Isaiah are not an exact quotation of Isaiah. Jesus has intentionally and purposefully chosen and arranged particular portions of Isiah’s text to create a specific message. He is describing the character of his ministry. He is establishing his priorities and the direction of his work. He is casting his vision for the reordering of relationships.
Jesus’ political agenda is not determined or influenced by who is good or bad, or an insider or outsider. It doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus who you are, what you have done or left undone, or what your life is like. Divine favor is not given to the poor, the captive, the blind, or the oppressed because they are good or righteous but because God is good and righteous.
What if we adopted Jesus’ political platform as our own? Presence with and compassion for another human being would replace resolving issues, fixing problems, and winning votes. We would listen more than we speak. Power would look like cooperation and collaboration. We would have to have the courage and will to stand with another in his or her pain, and the vulnerability to risk letting another stand with us in our pain. We would open rather than close places, people, and ourselves to the divine favor. We would know the fulfillment of “this scripture” here, today, right now.
Sunday, January 20, 2019
MLK Celebration/Wedding Feast at Cana
FIRST READING: MLK’s Mountaintop Speech
SECOND READING: A Reading from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians12:12-22, 24b-26
As the human body is one, but has many parts; and as all the parts of the body, though many, are one single body, so it is with the Christ. We were all baptized by one Spirit to form the one body of Christ, Judeans or Greeks, slaves or free; and we were all given the one Spirit to drink; and the body of Christ is not made up of one part, but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I don't belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?
If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? There are many parts, but one body. The eye can't say to the hand, “I have no need of you!” And the head can't say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body often deemed "weaker" are indispensable in the body of Christ...God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that were not given honor, so that there should be no division in the body, so that its parts should have equal concern for one another. Thus, if one part suffers, every part suffers. If one part is honored, all rejoice together with it.
The Word of the Apostle Paul.
Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL: A Reading from the Gospel attributed to John 2:1-11a
Glory to You, O God.
A wedding took place at Cana of Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. And the wine ran out. So Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.” Responding, Jesus said, “Mother, what concern of that is ours? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the wedding servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now, standing there were six stone water jars, intended to hold water for ritual cleansing: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Continuing, Jesus instructed, “Now draw some out and take it to the head steward of the feast.” They did so. When the head steward tasted the water it had turned into wine. Not knowing its source, (‘though the servants knew), the head steward of the feast called to the bride and bridegroom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests are well wined, but you have saved the best wine for last.”
This was the first of Jesus’ signs.
The Gospel of Our God. Praise to you Jesus the Christ.
Last week I had a really good day at work. I was praying with a woman who was dying and chose a scripture reading that I thought would be good. Afterwards, the daughter said, “How did you know?” “Know what” I asked. That that scripture reading was not only my mom’s favorite but it was what her mom read to her over and over. We’re reading it for her funeral.” Then, I went to visit an older man whose daughter was in the room when I entered. As soon as I said the word chaplain, she said, “OMG. I was just going to go to the chapel to see if I could find a chaplain for my dad and here you are.” Finally, remember the prayer blanket we made last Sunday? It was navy with plaid on one side and snowflakes on the other. I brought it to a family for their dad who was dying and they said, “Oh, it’s perfect. He was in the Navy so he loves anything navy.” That was a good day. A day when it felt like I could do no wrong but also a day when God’s spirit was so evidently working through me. None of those situations was something I did because I knew it’s what was needed. It was all part of God helping to synch me up to other people’s needs. And it felt wonderful. That doesn’t happen all that often. And I shouldn’t need to be reminded that God is at work.
I wonder if MLK had those kind of days, times when it was so evident that God was giving him the words and the insight and the drive to keep speaking truth to power. He seemed to have that spirit in each of his speeches, moving crowds to cheer and renew their efforts. In this speech, King is in Memphis, TN in 1968. In his speech we hear him speaking such truths in his preacher voice with its cadence and the way it builds to encourage and empower the people. King had to have felt that he was using the gifts God had given him to move the kin-dom forward. He was confident that “we will get to the promised land.” He said that he had been to the mountaintop; that he had seen the promised land. He insisted that, “we will get there.” Did you notice how he said, “I may not get there with you.” It became an eerie prophecy. Less than 24 hours later, he was shot on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.
And then there’s Mary at the wedding feast at Cana. Oy veh! Mary, Jesus’s Jewish mother, was doing what so many Jewish moms would do. She was instructing her son to “get on with it.” She knew what he was capable of. She knew that Jesus had gifts to be used to move the kin-dom forward. And that day at that wedding, it was time. Jesus didn’t believe it was time. But his mom insisted. She may have sensed his hesitation to thrust himself into the limelight, to begin a life of protest and empowerment of others. And yet, she used her gift as a mother, who knew her son would be obedient, to start his ministry.
There is a song that says, “The gifts we are given, we are given to share.” But what happens when injunctions and rules prevent us from using our gifts? King was referring to an injunction handed down by the courts that was barring the civil rights group from assembling on April 8. This speech was on April 3, five days earlier. After his assassination on April 4, there were 4 days of rioting and revolt. The people were outraged that such a man as King was taken from them. He was their fearless leader who was helping them to shape a future. Instead of a peaceful assembly, there was violence, the very thing King spoke against.
King’s dreams are our dreams for the world and the Church. His hopes are our hopes for the world and the Church. Where do we go from here? What do we do? As Martha said, “We can be noisier.” We could use social media more. We can write editorials for online versions of the newspaper. This year, we will continue to focus on social justice, reaching out to those on the margins. This coming Tuesday is the JCIC meeting at 6:30pm at Old Brick. I invite any of you to join me and Nick, to see what is happening to help change racism in Iowa City.
Let us use our gifts without affirmation that they’ve made a difference. May we continue to do what we feel called to do regardless of any notice or reassurance that we are doing the right thing. Jesus was never acknowledged for his water into wine miracle. The servants knew. And the host may have wondered but there was never any public announcement of it. May we use our gifts with quiet gratitude for the opportunity to do so and with the wise awareness that we still need to make a place for more women and children to use their gifts specifically in the Church.
We do not know what the future of the Catholic church is, but I pray it is not the same old Church that we see today, with the hierarchy firmly in power and the pope mimicking what his cronies want him to do and say. It may cost him his life, but I pray that this pope may find the opportunity to use his gift of insight to make change, change especially for women.
Perhaps we need to hear Mary’s words for ourselves: “Do whatever he tells you to do.” Let us respond to Jesus in action as we continue to hope for our Church to see the mountaintop and to get us all to the promised land.
What are your gifts? How can you use them to move the church forward?
January 6, 2019
FIRST READING: A Reading from the First Book of Kings 10:1-13
When the Queen of Sheba learned of Solomon’s fame and learned of his God, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. She arrived at Jerusalem with a huge retinue: camels carrying spices and great stores of gold and precious stones. She came to Solomon and opened her mind freely to the ruler. Solomon had a response to all of her queries. Not one of her questions was too obscure for the ruler to give her reply.
When the Queen of Sheba, who also was wise, saw all the wisdom of Solomon, the royal residence he had built, the food on his table, the organization of his court, the service and attire of his attendants, his wine service, and the burnt offerings made at the Temple, she was left breathless. She said to Solomon, “The report I received in my own country about your wisdom and your accomplishments is true. But until I came and saw it with my own eyes I could not believe what they told me. Clearly, they told me less than half! For wisdom and prosperity, you surpass the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, and happy your courtiers who attend you every day and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Name of your God who delights in you and who sits you on the judgment seat of your people! God loves God’s people eternally, and so made you ruler to maintain law and justice.” Then the queen presented Solomon with four tons of gold, spices in great abundance, and precious stones. Never again did anyone bring such a quantity of spices as the Queen of Sheba gave to Solomon.
Besides these gifts from Sheba, Hiram’s fleet of ships, which had brought Solomon gold from Ophir, also brought him huge cargoes of sandlewood and precious stones from Ophir. Solomon used the wood to make supports for the Temple of God and for the royal residence, as well as lyres and lutes for the singers. No such quantities of sandlewood have ever been imported or even seen since that time. All that the Queen of Sheba desired, Solomon gave her. Because of her wisdom, she left with more gifts than she brought. She returned with her courtiers to her own country.
Second Reading: A Reading from a letter of Paul to the Galatians 3:26-28
Each one of you is a child of God because of your faith in Jesus the Christ. All of you who have been baptized into the risen Christ have clothed yourselves with a new way of being in the world. In Christ there is no Judean or Greek, slave or free, male or female. All are one in Jesus the Christ. The Word of the Apostle Paul. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL: A Reading from the Gospel attributed to Matthew2:1-12
Glory to you, O God.
After Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea during the reign of Herod, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn leader of the Judeans? We observed the child’s star at its rising and have come to pay homage.” When Herod heard this, he was greatly disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Summoning all the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him, “for this has been written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall come a leader who will shepherd my people.”
Then Herod secretly called for the Magi and learned from them the exact time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem, having instructed them, “Go! Search diligently for the child. When you have found the newborn, bring me word so that I may also go and pay homage.”
After their audience with Herod, they set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child lay. When they saw that the star hovering, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they found the child with his mother, Mary. They bowed down and paid homage. Opening their treasure chests, they offered the child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another route.
The Gospel of Our God. Praise to you Jesus the Christ.
Thanks to Helene’s questions on Christmas, I spent some time examining the traditional stories/history of Epiphany and the Magi. We must remember that so much of the Bible is metaphor, stories embellished by its writers to teach a lesson, often using the mindset of the author to make a point. Thus, it is difficult to know the exact truth of any story. The same is true for the story of Epiphany.
What we have come to accept is that there were three wise men from various locations around the world who came to visit the newborn Jesus and to pay him homage. As for the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, these were probably made up to emphasize Jesus’ three roles of King, spiritual leader and savior. Not until the fifth century were the visitors called kings and named, Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior. Caspar is portrayed as black to represent all the diversity of the Eastern Gentile world. Later, it was discovered that these kings were more likely astrologers who practiced Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion founded by Zoroaster. Also, we now know that often, after the birth of some famous person an author will include “signs in the skies” that proclaim or predict his birth. Remember, the Bible is not a historical record but a book written by men who sought to recount history within their own historical and social experience. None of the authors wrote simply to record history.
OK. So that’s what we know. What I want us to wonder about is, what if these three magi were women? In an NCR article by Christine Schenk, she wonders this too. You’ve all heard about the joke, “If three wise women were the Magi, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, swept the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts.” But there is real seriousness in considering the fact that women were part of the Magi.
Schenk writes, “Dominican Fr. Benedict Thomas Viviano, believes it entirely possible that women could have been among the Magi.” Viviano is professor emeritus at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. According to Viviano, "The main reason to think of the presence of one or more women among the magi is the background story of the queen of Sheba, with her quest for Israelite royal wisdom, her reverent awe, and her three gifts fit for a king." Even more compelling is that in the Middle East it would have been inconceivable for men to be in the presence of a woman without the presence of other women. Joseph is conspicuously absent when the Magi visit. The phrase "the child and his mother" is used five times in the Magi-flight-into-Egypt narrative (Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 19, 21). For Viviano, "The presence of Jesus' mother Mary is an explicit statement of the presence of a woman at the time of the magi's visit. In support of Viviano's thesis, Zoroastrianism allowed women to serve as priests and in ancient Persia there were female astronomers and rulers.
This is an amazing discovery and one that gives me great hope for the future. Women keep popping up in the most unexpected places.
Like in our first reading; I had never heard the story about the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon but it is a well known story in other religions. In Jewish legend, the Queen of Sheba was the Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia. In others, she is the Queen of South Arabia, or current day Yemen. Solomon taught Sheba about his god, Yahweh, and then they exchanged gifts. The Queen of Sheba was credited with bringing the first balsam tree to Israel. Most tales revolve around her meeting with the biblical King of Israel, Solomon, with variations on what occurred during that visit. In some tales she is tricked into sleeping with him, ultimately leading her to bear him a son. In other versions, she is tricked into revealing her hairy legs, which repulses Solomon. In other variations, she simply delivers spices to Solomon, uses riddles to test his wisdom, and then returns home. Some Ethiopians believe that this is how Christianity was originally brought to their area.
Many believe that this story is a precursor for the Magi having at least one woman who came to give gifts to the child Jesus. Schenk challenges us to think outside the box, especially since the box has very suspect walls.
We should not be threatened by such new ideas. In the recent past, no one would have allowed for such musings in the traditional Catholic church. Which is why we need women with new ideas to help expand and explore different interpretations of scripture. May the men of the hierarchy and the priests in our own diocese open their minds to women and accept that women’s leadership holds more for the faith, not less. Women as magi is no more scary, challenging or odd than the idea that three men came so far to pay homage to a child, an infant.
As for Herod, he could’ve easily paid astrologers to find the child and killed him on sight. That never came to be. Yes, even dreams inform wise people of what they are to do to serve God. We continue to dream for change in the church. May those dreams help guide us in the way we are to go.
McGlone says, “There is the irony that strangers were willing to go to great lengths to encounter Emmanuel, while the religious leaders of the chosen people were content with their theology.” That is true even today. McGlone says, “Emmanuel is still waiting to be discovered in what we might think are the most unlikely places and by the most unlikely people.” We are those unlikely people who need to keep speaking truth to power. Can we do that? How will you bring new awarenesses to others? What Epiphany will you invite our leaders to embrace? Let’s venture outside our comfort zones, outside our walls to go and find our God who seeks to change the world.
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