What is Glory??

5th Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019

Read: Acts 14:21-27, Ps 145: 8-13, Rev. 21:1-5a; John 13: 31-33a, 34-35

Let’s look at the Gospel, then the 1st reading from Acts, and finish with Revelations.

First, the setting of this Gospel: we are at the last supper, shortly before Jesus is arrested. Jesus has washed the apostles’ feet, and Jesus has dipped his bread into the dipping oil along with Judas, identifying Judas as the one who will betray him.  Then Judas left the room, which is the first sentence of our reading today.  What does Jesus say now?

Our Missal offers this translation of the Greek: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.”  Now it would entirely inappropriate to laugh at this, but I feel that little tickle in my toes that makes me want to throw up my hands and say, “WHAT??”

But I know John is working hard to tell us something important. Let’s see if we can’t make some sense of it. First, what does “glorify” mean, Mr. Webster?

Glorify: “to give glory, honor or high praise, or to worship.” If something is glorious, it has great beauty, splendor, is magnificent or wonderful, like a glorious sunset. To have glory is to be highly praiseworthy.

Next, let’s read the translation in the “Living Bible”. It is a less precise translation of the Greek, but very helpful with things like this.  Jesus said, “My time has come; the glory of God will soon surround me – and God shall receive great praise because of all that happens to me. And God shall give me his own glory, and this so very soon.”

So we end up with this: Now is the time! God is going to give Jesus praise and honor; God’s own greatness will be wrapped around Jesus like a blanket, because of what Jesus will do on the cross.  God will also receive high praise and worship because of what Jesus does. Then Jesus, very shortly, will become highly praiseworthy himself.

John wants us to understand the importance and the consequences of Jesus being willing to be crucified. Jesus is innocent, without sin.  We are not so innocent.  He is willing to bear our sins on the cross.  I don’t necesssarily mean sins like murder and robbery.  But the sins of jealousy, of pride, of desiring more power than we can handle, the thoughts and desires that leave black holes in our souls, the more subtle sins of us all.  And the consequences are not just that an innocent man “pays back” our sins, but that we are forgiven, and life triumphs over death and light overcomes darkness.  The way to eternal life is opened, because we are now made pure again, now able to live in the light of God’s purity.

But there is one last thing Jesus has to say to us: the part we have in this. We are not just bystanders watching a play.  No Christian can just be a spectator.  He says, “If you want to remain part of me, want to be identified with my glory and praiseworthiness, here is what you have to do: Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  That is not easy; it is difficult, but easier than crucifixion!  Jesus was and is here with us to show us how to love. Love will be our badge, our uniform, love will be the sign that all can see and recognize, when we love our neighbors in this special & intense way.  Is it true, do we wear our love, so that people know?

Now let’s jump ahead a few years to the travels of Paul and Barnabas. These two men traveled long distances, primarily on foot, and they frequently were in danger, suffered from need and poverty, ridicule, and gave up their lives at home.  They proclaimed the good news to city after city, building up churches, training elders and leaders.  They strengthened the spirits of those new disciples, urging them to be strong in their faith, preparing people to undergo ridicule, slander and suspicion, and modeling it all.

Finally we hear from St. John in the Book of Revelation.  John was captured in a persecution campaign by the Roman Emperor Domitian and sentenced to Patmos, now known as Patino, 55 miles southwest of Ephesus. Patmos was a small, rocky and barren island where many criminals of Rome were sent to serve out their prison terms in harsh conditions. There were mines on the island that the criminals were forced to work in them. John was sent to the island because the early Christians were considered a strange cult group who were viewed as trouble makers within the Empire.  John had taught the Good News of Jesus and refused to worship the Roman gods. After John had arrived, he began to have visions, recorded in the Book of Revelation.

John wrote to his followers, “I…share with you in Jesus the persecution (the really bad times) and the kingdom( the really good times) and the patient endurance (it takes to get from one to the other).”   John fully understands how really difficult life is.  No doubt his visions enabled him to endure the hard conditions, and his writings encouraged other Christians who were being persecuted.  He talks of the future, the eternal life, with a new heaven and a new earth, where God’s dwelling is with the human race.  God will always be with them as their God, and death, mourning, wailing, and pain will end.  And God says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

So we started with an explanation of the importance and consequences of the crucifixion. The end result is to make us able to be God’s people, face to face.

Our task is to embrace that enormous love and live it, to give it to everyone. We are given role models, people like Paul and Barnabas and John to demonstrate in very large ways what they did with that love.  And finally we are given a glimpse of what is to come.  That provides reassurance that our faith is not in vain, our efforts to love are not worthless.  Our face is the face of Christianity to other people, and we must wear our love in a way that people will recognize it and say, “I want what you have!”

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7 Sundays

3rd Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30:2,-6, 11-13; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21 1:1-19

At the opening of today’s Gospel, Peter and 7 of the other apostles are still reeling from the shock of the crucifixion and are still not entirely sure just exactly what happened afterwards. When we lose someone very dear to us, we may also fear that we have no hope for the future. That is how they felt: hopeless, without a future, empty inside, lost.  So it doesn’t surprise us that the 8 men, like a bunch of mother-less boys, don’t know what to do.  They do what they always did before – they went fishing, maybe for something to eat, maybe make a little money, mostly, just for something to do, something they were used to, that brought back good memories, and something that didn’t demand their confused brains to work very hard.

But night turns into morning, and no fish had been sighted; nothing. A voice calls out an Aramaic word which means something like lads, or guys, a name for young men.  And the voice tells them to fish on the other of the boat.

Now isn’t that just like real life. We can be so close to success, to making sense of our lives, to achieving an important goal, and we never think of making a small adjustment that might bring success. I was an employment counselor for 13 years, and oversaw job training programs.  I saw people make foolish decisions, do things they knew would ruin their chance for finishing the training, when they were close to the end.   We all tend to have a habit of fishing out of just one side of the boat, to keep things from changing.  We continue to flounder because we keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work anymore.

We need the voice of Jesus in our lives to lead us to good alternatives. I can’t tell you how many times Jesus has offered me solutions to really hard situations – ideas I never would have considered, but ideas that were absolutely brilliant and successful yet at the same time simple.  John recognized Jesus by what he did – Jesus changed one small detail which made everything different.  That is how Jesus tends to move in our lives, not with fireworks, but a gentle nudge.

Jesus is on the beach with another charcoal fire. Do you remember the first charcoal fire we read about in John’s Gospel?  The first fire warmed Peter in Caiaphas’s courtyard when, as predicted, Peter denies Jesus three times. Today John tells us about this second charcoal fire, where Jesus invites Peter to seek forgiveness for his 3 denials by declaring his love three times. Each time Jesus asks Peter to act out that love by service: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” He then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Social justice ministry is important, but sometimes that ministry takes us where we might not want to go, we might work with people we don’t understand or even like, we will seeing suffering that is hard to witness and calls us to give more of ourselves than we had planned on. Serving Jesus means loving our enemies, like the Roman oppressors, like the narrow-minded Pharisees.  You know people today that you could call your enemies.  What Jesus asks is easy to say and very hard to do (or we would do it).

I am once again astounded by the way Jesus handles this reconciliation. I know of no one that would be so gentle, yet at the same time so firm.  A man I know has the most active prayer life I have ever encountered.  He tells me he has never experienced such gentleness as the gentleness of Jesus.  But, on the other hand, he when he tries to describe the power and strength of Jesus, he is at a loss for words, and just shakes his head, amazed.  I think that is the Jesus that this passage describes.  Jesus addresses Peter with 4 simple words “Do you love me?”  Peter offers his whole heart with his reply, “You know that I love you.”

Those words bring Peter to tears – and complete and lasting change. This is literally a point of life change for Peter.  He could have ended up taking his own life out of remorse, as Judas did.  Judas could have come to face Jesus and lived, but he didn’t.  Judas believed the lie that his sin was too great.  Surely his betrayal was a sin, but the real sin was to turn his back on Jesus and refuse to believe that Jesus has the power to forgive our sin. Do we have what it takes to forgive those who have hurt us?  Do we have what it takes to face our failings and ask for forgiveness? Do we understand that our sins, our failures, our moments of greed and self-absorption can lead us to a point of life change? The very worse mistakes in our lives can bring us blessings untold when we take them to Jesus.

Our 1st reading from Acts therefore has a totally transformed Peter, saying to the very same High Priest he was so very fearful of not long before, “We must obey God rather than man” and so bolding finding joy in suffering threats and dishonor for being true to Jesus.  He not only returns to be an apostle, a follower of Jesus, but moves ahead, and moves to the “other side of the boat” – leadership.  One side of the boat there was a gentle call; moving to the other side of the boat, there was the power to create a multitude of fish where there were none before.  So Peter moves on to publicly witnesses to the Risen Christ, a true fisher of mankind.

After Easter, we can return to the world we were used to, seeming unchanged.  Maybe that’s why we have 7 Sundays of Easter Season.  It gives us time to face a living, resurrected Jesus, and a world where life does triumph over death.  It gives us time to hear a call from the beach, to witness the miracle of Jesus’ power.  It gives us time to move to the other side of the boat and recognize Jesus for who he is. It gives us time to draw near to Jesus at the charcoal fire, sinners as we are, and be given the gifts of reconciliation and forgiveness.  There we can proclaim a new level of love and desire to take the love given to us to all the people who are lost sheep in this world.  My friends, the sheep are waiting!

What does Easter mean to us, today?

Easter 4-21-2019

Readings:  Acts 10: 34, 37-43; Ps 118; Colossians 3; 1-4; John 20: 1-9

One Easter, Several years ago, I was sitting in a church aptly named Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie, MD. Just across the aisle from me sat an older woman and a younger woman.  The older one leaned over and said to the younger, “You know, Jesus didn’t really die.”

I have wondered ever since what people think Easter is. But Jesus left us (all) in charge of spreading “The Good News” which includes telling the triumph of the resurrection.  Maybe preachers aren’t talking about the Gospels as much, and maybe the parishioners don’t tell their friends and family either.  But we’ve moved into an age of easy, wide-spread, and instant communication.  We can talk about making ourselves know, or we could make it a goal and actually do it, make it real.

If we did that- I mean really reached out in an informed, decisive way with intent to reach a goal of just 3 new people a month, still, sooner or later we will put ourselves in the awkward position of having to explain Easter to someone. By the way, Fairfax county has more than 1,200,000, so 3 people would be .00026% of the population.  Naturally, doing this means explaining what resurrection is and how Jesus died and what brought about his death, and what he did that made certain people so angry.  And what the results are for us.  Not just a history lesson, but something that has an impact on our lives.

Like something that brings about a change of circumstances for every single human being on the planet for all time; something bigger, way bigger than Easter eggs and bunnies and, of course, chocolate. But chocolate companies know how to advertize, effectively, and they do it, and all they get out of it is grubby old money. Yuk.  They have to hire tax lawyers and have high stress levels and fair trade issues, paying their farmers sustainable wages and all kinds of things that keep them awake at night. Explaining how Easter impacts us personally is nothing next to all that hassle!  We’ve got it easy!

So, let’s start with the easy stuff. I figure if anyone knew about death, Roman soldiers knew. Their job at the crucifixion was to kill Jesus. First they beat and flogged him so badly that he was bleeding to death long before they nailed him to the cross.  It was a process designed to end in death.  Then they thrust a spear into his heart and lungs to eliminate any possible doubt.  It’s a no brainer.  Now, some of the parables and stories of Jesus have been arranged by Gospel authors to teach a particular lesson.  But, who would make up stories of Peter “the rock” betraying Jesus 3 times?  Lesson # 1: when we read Biblical eye witness accounts, full of details, about known historical events, like crucifixion, confirmed by all 4 Gospels, we really don’t have any reason to doubt it.

St. Paul evidently was sick and tired of answering this type of resurrection questions, because in his 1st letter to the church at Corinth, he really goes off on it.  He tells them to “Hold Fast” to what he had taught – that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried (because he was dead), and raised on the third day, as the scriptures had foretold, and he appeared to Peter, then to apostles, and then he appeared to more than 500 people at one time, and some of them were still, in his day, alive and talking about it. Then Jesus appeared to James and finally Paul himself.  He’s clear about it.

You know, unexpected things happen when you wear one of these collars. I’ve had people (plural, men and women, sane) tell me about Jesus appearing to them, and they describe him to me in the most personal of terms.  Jesus rose from the dead.   Lesson # 2: Jesus is alive.  Jesus is more alive than the cultures in my active and alive yogurt. You don’t get weirded about out that, you don’t go buy a microscope when you hear that, why is it so hard to accept, why should you be amazed for me to tell you that the same Jesus that raised Lazarus and the little girl and the widow’s son from the dead is alive?

Well, if this still troubles you, don’t feel bad, even St. Peter had some issues with it, even after spending years with Jesus, even after seeing the empty tomb and the burial cloths, with one rolled up and deliberately set aside. The problem was that he couldn’t open his mind up to it.  It can be a big jump from reading the text book (in this case, the scriptures), and understanding on a personal level.  We use cars, machinery, and electronic devices all the time and many of us have no real idea how they work or how they’re made.  We use them because they work, “believing” in them in a way, without understanding.

We’ve probably all been duped by a slimy salesperson, yet we don’t stop shopping. Do I ask too much when I say, “Believe, trust, pray”?  I don’t ask you embrace everything whispered in your ear at church, or every bit of church dogma or what you think your 4th grade religion teacher said; that might be a mistake.  Faith must be questioned and explored, and there is a learning curve involved if your want your faith to grow.  Lesson # 3 – open yourself to the possibilities -not just a historical Jesus on the pages of your Bible, but a real, living Jesus.

Finally, don’t get hung up on the “born again” thing. You were “born again” when the water was poured over you at your baptism.  If you weren’t baptized, come see me, I can fix that.  But approach it like a physicist.  Every action (baptism) must have an equal and opposite reaction.  And what is re-action to baptism?  It is Behavior filled with Belief!  (Makes me think of that great lemon cream in donuts – you can come up with your own image of Behavior filled with Belief, until it oozes out.) That is the authentic re-action to Baptism!

During Lent we read how Isaiah was so critical of people who performed the rituals of the church, yet they never lived their faith. In St. John’s letter (3:17-18), John wrote, “But if (we) have the world’s goods and see (our neighbors) in need, yet close (our) heart against them, how does God’s love abide in (us)?…Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” St. James (2:17) is even more direct.  He wrote, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  Last Lesson#4: The reaction to Easter is actions of love, mercy, and generosity.  Our minds must open, but so must our time, our wallets, and our compassion. That is what the Jesus of the Bible did, and the living Jesus does now, and what we as Christians are to do.  “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” Jesus said. (John 13:35)

So let’s recap what Easter means to us, and this is how we will do it: On Easter, our Tradition is to renew our baptismal promises. If you were baptized as a baby, you might not have known the words, so you get a chance to say it today.  If you need to be baptized, this is a great chance to practice for your big day.  We do this in a question-answer format, which starts on the bottom of page 65 of your Missal.  If you listen to what you are saying, it sounds very much like the Creed we usually say at this time, and I will sprinkle you with blessed baptismal water afterwards.   So please stand and turn to page 65.

Love Triumphs Over Loss

5th Sunday of Lent 4-7-19

Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21, Psalm 126:1-6, Philippians 3: 8-14, John 8:1-11

There are two pivotal stories of the Jewish people. The first is the Exodus from Egypt, the people being led from slavery to the Promised Land.  They are literally led by God and fed by God on the journey. But most importantly, they must go thru some big changes; God must de-program them from slave mentality, they must leave their fear of Egypt behind, with all the physical and emotion abuse they had suffered.

Their sons had been slaughtered by the Egyptians, their daughters made concubines of the pharaohs, they were used to eating what the Egyptians gave them to eat, and worshiping the idols they were told to worship. They were accustomed to doing what they were told and to cower before their masters. The journey took 40 years not because of the distance, but because of the enormity of the task of freeing them from looking back at their old life, and preparing them for a new life ahead.

The second pivotal story of the Jewish people is the captivity in Babylon for 40 years, and their ultimate release to return to their homeland.  The brutality of the war with Babylon, the total destruction of their temple, their homes, their cities, and their culture – all this left them deeply wounded psychologically.  Again, they must begin all over, and rebuild their buildings, their infrastructure, their very way of life, and their worship of their God that they hardly remembered.

God took the initiative here.  So God tells them, “don’t look back.”  Don’t waste your time rehashing your troubles and clinging to what had seemingly become “the new normal” of captivity.  He calls them to wake up, he says look and see what I’m doing, something new, it springs forth, can’t you see?!  Even the animals can see it, but I do it for the people I formed, “That they might announce my praise.”

This story continues in our psalm, with the people’s response. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord.  We need help as large as and powerful as of a mass of rushing water, like a torrent in the time of flood. We are weeping at the destruction of our land and of our hopes, but we will rebuild, and we will rejoice in what we accomplish with your help.”

We know the pivotal story of the Christian people. Paul writes of his losses in the decision to follow Christ. He lost everything he had.  He lost his place and status as a learned Pharisee.  He lost his home, and became a traveler.  He certainly lost friends, he was physically attacked, he lost his wealth, and had to work as a common tent maker to buy food.  Yet he always looks forward to what God is doing. Paul had discovered himself on the receiving end of a divine love that enabled him to live by the law of love.  He says all the things he lost were “so much rubbish” in the light of his faith, in knowing Christ, and the “power of his resurrection.”   Paul says that he lets go of and forgets what lies behind, but strains forward to what lies ahead, and continues pursuit of the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling to eternal life.

The strength of the faith of the Jews as they rebuilt their lives, the strength of Paul as he pursued God, sound to me like that sound rushing water makes in flood time. There is a power behind them, they see the new things that God is doing, a force which stronger than any opposition and better than anything they had lost.

Then we have Jesus and the woman. The woman was as battered and beaten down as the Jews had been in Egypt.  Most likely she was a woman who had been widowed and had no family to support her.  Prostitution was then and is now the last resort for women who are not loved, who have lost hope, and have lost any sense of value of themselves.  Since this situation is clearly a set up by the Pharisees, there is no doubt in my mind that this poor woman was just hoping to have enough payment for her services to buy one meal that day.  Clearly, she was just being used and shamed one more time by people who regarded themselves as superiors.

I remember when my last church was a brand new church, searching for worship space. They were renting a single basement room, it used to be a Sunday school room in a church that was dying, financially on it’s last legs, had spent all its reserves, was in an area where gun shots were heard and the copper gutters had been stolen off the church building. A beautiful old church nearby had been purchased by another independent Catholic group, and some discussions had started about moving there.

It was mentioned that a group of local prostitutes would sit on the church steps in the early evening, getting ready to go “to work.”  Everyone at the meeting acted like they had not heard that piece of information, like it had nothing to do with them.  Afterwards, I approached the speaker, and commented that there was a great opportunity to help those women.  The speaker, sighed, and said quietly, “You’re the only who mentioned that.” Now and then, such women are still considered expendable.

But God was initiating something new that day for the woman in front of Jesus. The Pharisees had no authority to inflict capital punishment on this woman.   That authority belonged to Rome.  She was being used like a trap against Jesus, but she might become the laughing stock of Jerusalem by nightfall and, as a result, die of starvation anyway.  He saved her with a single sentence, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

With those words, he reminds the Pharisees that they, like the woman, had no power in this situation, and thereby shames them with their own sins – the lies they have told and their pretense of authority they did not have, authority they had prostituted to Rome in a desperate attempt to salvage their social status.  Once again, as you read the story, you hear that torrent of water, water of truth, life-giving water, and power…the power to rebuild, to change, for her to become whole again and shine with God’s light.

I hope you don’t drive down the road looking in the rearview mirror, but rather “staining to see what lies ahead.   During Lent weep over the past, but in the celebration of Easter we return rejoicing.  Both long ago and today, Jesus forgives the sinner without denying the sin. Listen, Believe, See something new, And Rejoice.

St. Patrick and the Transfiguration

2nd Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019

Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27 1-14; Philippians 3: 17-4:1; Luke 9: 28-36

Our Gospel today is one of those passages that you need a key to open. By that, I mean that it is written in symbols, a kind of Biblical code. Let’s go thru it, piece by piece.

“They went up the mountain to pray” –In the Old Testament, if God is in the sky (the “heavens”), then the higher you go up, the closer you are to God. In the scriptures, people often receive revelations from God on mountains.   Moses was given the Ten Commandments on a mountain; Elijah talked with God on a mountain.

“Jesus face changed and his clothing became dazzling white” – Jesus is portrayed in Luke as the New Moses. Remember that Moses’ face glowed after he came down the mountain with the tablets.  Now Jesus is radiant.  But, Moses just reflected God’s glory/light.  But Jesus actually radiates light; not reflecting God but he himself was the source of the light, just as God is. Also, remember that people with nothing but candles for light treasured light beyond our imagination.

“Moses and Elijah…appear.”- Moses represents the Law, while Elijah was a prophet who brought God’s words to the people- together they brought what was know about God.  They “spoke of the exodus Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.”- It is important to know that the transfiguration occurred immediately after Jesus’ 1st prediction of his death and rising to the apostles.   Moses and Elijah discuss it as a planned event. It is an “exodus” in the sense that Jesus leads us, just as Moses led the Israelites from “slavery and bondage” to “newness of freedom”. Only we experience slavery as things like addictions and materialism.

“Peter, James & John had been overcome by sleep.” – I have a granddaughter who, when she was little, would fall sleep whenever curtain girl and her mother would visit. The girl was loud and rough and having her visit totally overwhelmed my shy, gentle granddaughter.  The apostles were overwhelmed, understandably unable to make sense of the scene in front of them.  Is it a dream? A hallucination?  Had they lost their minds?mountai  What is happening; what’s it mean?

“Peter suggests making tents and staying here” – but he misses the point; he’s so like…us. Later, after the resurrection, he will grasp the meaning of this experience and understand who Jesus is and what he has done.  Also, later Peter will have the Words that Jesus spoke and find that the Word is the same as the Jesus’ presence in a body or in a cloud. He will always have Jesus with him.

“A cloud came and cast a shadow” – another reference to Moses. A cloud covered tabernacle tent of the Israelites and filled it, and it was the presence of God.

“This is my chosen Son, listen to him.” – God is telling the apostles to listen to what? To the prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection. Now it has been spoken by Jesus & witnessed by Moses, Elijah, and God. The apostles have seen the Godly radiance of Jesus, and entered the cloud that was God.  Hearing, sight and touch have declared the truth of Jesus to them.   Their silence will end when they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and they will spend the rest of their lives teaching and testifying about Jesus to the ends of the earth.  Luke writes this to teach us what the apostles learned, and wants our reaction to be the same as theirs.

This passage is read during Lent to remind us of some things. While we don’t need to climb a mountain to pray, we do need space and time set aside for prayer.  Prayer is often when God reveals things to us.  We need to pray every bit as much as to sleep or to eat.  God gives us to revelations as we read scripture or hear things as we listen to religious programs, movies or lectures. We can touch rosary beads or a pocket cross, or other religious articles.  But Jesus is always with us, and learning to see or hear or touch him is necessary. We must take the time to open ourselves to him.

I would like to hold up for you today St. Patrick, for today is his memorial. We have a short spiritual autobiography he wrote, the Confessio.  From this we have some facts, while many of the popular traditions about the snakes and the shamrocks may be legend.

St. Patrick was kidnapped as a slave by Irish raiders in Britain when he was 16, and held as a slave for 6 long, hard years.  He chose to rely on his faith to get him through that.  By a dream, he was shown the way to escape, nearly starving to death before getting back to his family.

He then studied under St. Germanus, who consecrated him later as a Bishop. Again he had a dream, and was literally called to return to Ireland.  For a long time, he struggled with that call.  He felt he was not up to the task, not worthy and certainly scared.  But once he went, he was very successful teaching the faith, baptizing and confirming the native Picts of Ireland as well as the Anglo-Saxons.

Which is not to say that he was safe all the time. He wrote that he lived in constant danger of martyrdom.  Daily he expected to be violently killed or enslaved by the non-Christian Irish.  He had to endure charges by British Clergy who claimed he wanted to be a Bishop only to inflate his pride.  In fact, his writings prove him to be a most humble-minded man, continuously giving thanks to God for sending him to the same people who had enslaved him as a boy.

His Latin was poor, and it took much effort to translate his book and to align what he wrote with known history. But his writing shows a man of truth and simplicity of the rarest quality.  He bared his soul in an unusually frank and honest way.  Even D.A. Binchy, a scholar who is one of Patrick’s most severe critics, wrote, “The moral and spiritual greatness of the man shines through every stumbling sentence.”

So we come full circle to a Saint who also “shines” with the glory of God. He, like the apostles, after a period of fear and reluctance, took the Word of God to people, exposing themselves to harm and violence. They all cultivated their deep relationship with God and clung to their faith as a way to sustain their lives, and changed the history of the world as a result.  When they might have slept safely at home, they awoke and followed God’s call.

We tell the stories of transfiguration and of Saints not only to learn how to follow Jesus, but to question our own lives. Are our lives a time of sleep to avoid the truth and trials we are meant to face?  Do we miss the meaning of what we see?  Do we focus on our troubles or do we focus on God when we are troubled?  Do we really listen to God?  Do we love our enemies? God “frees” us in the most unusual ways to do things we would have never considered otherwise.  Peter had one thing right – “It is good that we are here.”  Where you are supposed to be?

Blessed or Not?

6th Week Ordinary Time, Febuary 2-17-2019

Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1: 1-6;  1 Corthinthians 15: 12, 16-20; Luke 6: 17, 20-20

Jeremiah was a prophet in the early 500’s BC. Even before that, the beatitude was a standard format of Jewish teachers and prophets.  Today we read beatitudes from both Jeremiah and Psalm 1, which compare the person who delights in God to the wicked.  They say what is wise or foolish, in vivid and concrete terms.

Jeremiah says those who are blessed (happy) trust and hope in God. They are like a tree beside the water.  This is a symbol used in our Psalm and throughout the Old Testament. Despite the heat and drought, the tree does not go into survival mode, because the water is enough to give it strength to flourish as well as support others with food. This describes people who flourish, do good works (fruit), and who have connected to sources of support, encouragement, and strength.  The beatitudes describe the lives of Godly people vs. those who live only for themselves.

St Paul picks up the theme of the difference of those who love God and those who don’t believe. In our reading today, Paul is addressing questions about the truth of the resurrection of Christ.  He says if all we have is this life on earth, we are the most pitiable people of all- more pitiable than a barren bush in salty soil.  But, Christ is alive, the first to be raised from the dead, and we will follow him.  Paul would say that we are the tree and Christ is the water, always there beside us.

But now, we get to the fun part, the Gospel. Jesus went to the mountain to pray, and spent the entire night in prayer.  In the morning, he calls his followers around him and selects 12 to be the apostles.  But the Word was out, he had been spotted, and a very large crowd, “a great multitude,” Luke says, had gathered on the plain below the mountain, people from Judea, Jerusalem, the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  They came to see him for themselves, to touch him in hopes of healing, and to hear him teach.

This is not the way Matthew described the scene. Matthew had Christ high on the hill, to remind us of Moses.  Luke describes Jesus as down with the crowd, accessible, touchable. The two Gospels even quote Jesus differently.  Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”   It takes on a more spiritual, theological tone, loftier, if you will.

Luke writes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”  It is more literal, more concrete, more about life status, circumstances, the trials and demands of living, more “down to earth”.

Which one is right? They both are.  They both have a message for us.  There is no reason to try to fit them in the same box.  That is one gift of having four different Gospels.  Each writer tells the story differently to meet the needs of different groups and situations in different places and times.  They all perfectly agree that Christ came to teach us how to live, to love God and one another, to forgive our sins; Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.

So, what is Luke’s message? One of my favorite homilists, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, describes beatitudes as, “short, two-part blessings.” Like our Psalm says: “Blessed is one who delights in the law of the Lord, whatever he does, prospers.”  But Jesus, like Jesus so often does, changes it up.  He blesses the poor, the hungry, and the people on the fringe!

In that day, being obese was a blessing, making it obvious to everyone that you had more than enough food. Being wealthy was considered a blessing by the Lord.  Jesus seems to reverse these.  Being a target for insults- well, that hasn’t changed so much, then & now, it still means you take your faith seriously, you fail to “go with the flow,” or that you don’t lower your morals to reflect whatever you see on stage, screen and advertisement.

At any rate, when the people heard Jesus’ beatitudes, they were stunned! aghast! Well, the rich, the well-fed and the popular were stunned.  They had become accustomed to rewards and honors, to having more than enough, considered it their due.  It’s an easy trap to fall into when you have no regular, personal interface with the poor.  Blaming the poor and hungry for their own plight was an easy way to stifle any guilt they might feel. They had set aside anything in their scriptures about loving neighbors. But now they must consider that they were spending their due of surplus and opulence, they were wasting their lives without thought to the future, and their “goodness” was as false as the false prophets. They have been found out and much too soon will experience emptiness and grief. When you are on top, there is no where to go but down.  Fame, food, fortune, they are all fleeting.

But what you thought about Jesus’ beatitudes was different, depending who you were. Righteous or not, most people work their whole lives hoping to achieve a pleasant life, with plenty, with a sense of pride. If you were poor, hungry, and insulted, then Jesus brought a startling surprise.  Jesus knew your worth.  Jesus was saying he understood if you felt like life was a terrible economic and social “jail.” BUT it was not your fault. The cell door is open. You will be an insider in God’s kingdom, you will laugh and eat, you will be honored and rewarded; you will rejoice and leap for joy.  Things will not forever remain as they are.

Jesus routinely gave clear commands. When he told us to love a Samaritan whom we had never met before, and pay for his needs out of our own pockets as quickly as we would for the guy next door that we really like, clearly he was giving us advice, even directing us to act. Jesus here is not even offering any judgment on our lack of social justice.  He is not asking us to do anything.  He’s simply offering a mirror to look into, to recognize if our feet are on the ground and our values are realistic.  Jesus in fact, offers a blessing to us all, at the bottom of the social scale or at the top.  No one stays at the top forever. In an hour, every material thing you own can be gone in a fire, your reputation can be smeared, your spouse can clear out the bank accounts and disappear.  It is indeed a blessing to be taught not to become too dependent on your social status or your “stuff”.

On the other hand, it is also a blessing to believe that you have value, a value which remains constant if you are in rags or a designer ball gown with a diamond tiara. It is worth getting up again tomorrow and doing your best, for tomorrow is always a new day when you can make a difference.  I believe that hope does, in fact, spring eternal, and that there are greater rewards in life than having filet mignon and champagne for dinner.   Some people find more joy in sitting vigil with a dying person or teaching a child to read and eating peanut butter out of the jar.

We are not fully in charge of much of anything, but, as Rev. Taylor concluded, “Blessed are you who loose(n ) your grip on the way things are, for God shall lead you in the way things shall be.” I agree, and I think St. Luke also was telling us to relax our grip on things a little and seek to God a little harder.

 

 

Shedding a Little Light on Candlemas

Candlemas is a Christian Feast day celebrated annually on February 2, which is traditionally the 40th day (and end) of the Christmas-Epiphany season. Candlemas is one of the oldest Christian Feasts, and has been celebrated since the 4th century, beginning in Jerusalem.

It celebrates three occasions according to Christian belief. In Luke 2: 22-40, we read that Mary and Joseph took the Infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth.

(1) A woman was to be presented for purification by sacrifice 33 days after a boy’s circumcision in accordance with Leviticus 12: 2-8.

(2) The parents also had to perform the redemption of the firstborn son, in obedience to Numbers 18: 16. (Baptism was an adult cleansing from sin, not for infants.)

(3) Finally, it was Jesus’ first entry into the temple and a presentation to the world of the Christ Child. Two witnesses appear, Simeon and Anna, to prophesy and give thanks and blessings (Luke routinely balances women and men in his Gospel).

Christians speak of Jesus as a guiding light, or “the light of the world.” This title was more easily understood before electric lights, when darkness was a real factor in daily life; the end of daylight brought isolation and danger. The theme of light and goodness is a thread which goes through the Bible, beginning with creation in Genesis. The scripture readings of the day support this. Jesus, the King of Glory (Psalm 24: 7-10), yet like us in all things (Hebrews 2: 14-18), comes to his temple Malachi 3:1-4), to be a light for all the nations (Like 2:22-40).

Candlemas Day is sometimes called the Christian festival of lights. This coincides with an ancient festival on the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. It was the beginning of the preparation for planting crops. We call it Candlemas, since all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed that day.

We find the traditional ideas of Candlemas still celebrated in our “Groundhog Day” events (yes, I did watch Bill Murray in the film last night, a modern-day tale of conversion and redemption). Most European countries have their own similar traditions, such as the German tradition of the badger. The British have a weather poem:                   “If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter will have another another fight.   If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,winter won’t come again.”

(I was glad to see the snow and clouds this morning.)

Candlemas is then followed by a memorial of St. Blaise on Feb 3, in which candles play a role in the blessing of throats. Not only do we honor the devout Christian martyr and skilled healer and physician St. Blaise, but we also pray that the words that come out of our mouths are full of God’s grace and mercy.