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.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

A Meditation and Spiritual Communion on a Snowy Day, the Baptism of the Lord.

First Reading Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11

“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her service has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”

A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
10 Here comes with power
the Lord God,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
leading the ewes with care.

Psalm 104: 1-4, 24-30

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord, my God, you are great indeed!
You are clothed with majesty and splendor,
    robed in light as with a cloak.
You spread out the heavens like a tent;
    setting the beams of your chambers upon the waters.
You make the clouds your chariot;
traveling on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
flaming fire, your ministers.

24 How manifold are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, great and wide!
It teems with countless beings,
living things both large and small.
26 There ships ply their course
and Leviathan, whom you formed to play with.

27 All of these look to you
to give them food in due time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather;
when you open your hand, they are well filled.
29 When you hide your face, they panic.
Take away their breath, they perish
and return to the dust.
30 Send forth your spirit, they are created
and you renew the face of the earth.

Second Reading Titus 2: 11-14, 3: 4-7

11 For the grace of God has appeared, saving all 12 and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, 13 as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

But when the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Gospel Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

21When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Meditation –   The Many Baptisms of Life by Mactep Teoprhh (edited for space)

When an adult chooses to be baptized, what are they hoping for? What thirst took them to those waters? I wonder if there were parts of their life that needed to go, needed to drown and die, so that something new could arise.

I remember a trip down the Frio River with friends and we came to a water fall where the water comes over the rocks like a curtain, and you can get behind the water in the hollow of the rock. We sat back there, the three of us with our arms around one another laughing and splashing. I don’t think we had ever smiled that big before. We were being baptized into each others lives.

I remember standing here in this church the day I married my son and his wife, and I remember the day we buried him, and how those experiences in such different ways baptized me into being a dad in ways I could never have imagined.

And I think about the people that have called me or come to my office and said, “Can I talk to you about my life?” And every one of them baptized my priesthood in the waters of their life, inviting me to be more myself with them.  And I often return to that day, long ago, when I called my priest and said, “My life is a mess and I don’t know what to do.” I sat in his office and he baptized me into the truth of my pain and my brokenness and into a different way of living.

I can’t count the number of times that the waters of baptism flowed out of my eyes and down my cheeks as I once again realized how real life is, how beautiful it is, and how fragile and painful it can be.  Every one of those was a baptism. Every one of those was an experience in which I opened myself or the world opened to me, and my life was deepened and I was awakened. I was enlarged and forever changed. Those baptism were as real, holy, and life giving as that day a priest poured water over my head in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

What if we began to look at the people in our lives, our relationships, our experiences as baptismal water? How might God be enlarging, awakening, transforming, or deepening your life?

 

Prayers of the Faithful 1-13-19  Baptism of the Lord.

Priest: The love of God our Savior has appeared among us. Let us offer our prayers to God, not trusting     in our own good deeds, but God’s love for all people saying, “Lord hear our prayer.”  (Response)

Reader: For Holy Trinity and all of CACINA: that we may recognize we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and sent to share God’s Good News with others, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For understanding: that we may learn from Jesus how to be fully human and place all of our gifts and talents into God’s service, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For the human family: that we may recognize as sisters and brothers all who seek to serve God and renounce all forms of discrimination and prejudice, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For a renewal of the gift of the Holy Spirit: that God will stir up the gift of Spirit within us, make us strong in our faith and dynamic in love, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For a deepening of prayer in our lives: that, like Jesus, we may grow in our relationship with God through prayer and listening, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For all who have responded to God’s call to ministry: that God will strengthen them, make fruitful their service, and empower them with the Holy Spirit, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For all who are in need of a shepherd’s care, for refugees, the ill, those unjustly detained and those who lack heat or food: that many people will reach out to them, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For all victims of abuse and their abusers: that they may hear God’s affirmation that they are beloved and experience healing for their bodies, minds, and spirits, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For a new dawning of peace: that those who strive for peace may not tire and that God will open new opportunities for us to recognize the good in one another, we pray to the Lord.        (Response)

For all who have asked for our prayers, especially: Serena Rush, Elaine Rosen, Kevin Long, Rob Southard, Katie Boulware, Bishop Carl and Mark, Myles, Meryl, Nicole Lamb, Joy DeSalis, Chad Davis, Leona Franklin, Walter Berry, Ben & Stacie Tolen, Denise Borgatti, Richard Harrell and Renee Starret, Janet Decker, Amanda Pittmon, Delores Deal, Darrell Williams, Harold Deitrick, Fr. Michael Dakotah, Ted Marshall, and Fr. Dante’s sister, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For the intentions of Mary Vavrina, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

Please add any intentions you have now (Pause……………………….)  And for all our unspoken intentions, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

Priest: May God’s blessing come upon this New Year, may the Spirit’s flame glow brightly within us, and may we find new desire to share the goodness of God, we pray in the name of Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

Closing

Lord,    Send your light upon all who read this and upon all your family.  May they continue to enjoy your favor And devote themselves to doing good. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

May almighty God bless you, The Father, and the Son + and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Jesus and the level playing field

26th Sunday Ordinary time, 9-30-18

Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8-14, James 5:1-6, Mark 9: 38-48

I was talking to a priest friend a couple of weeks ago, and we were discussing how to make our faith lives more meaningful. She said she had bought a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet.  I was pretty skeptical that a bracelet would help; I asked, “Really?” “Yes,” she said with great enthusiasm, “It makes me think about what I’m doing, and ask if Jesus would do it.”

And that is exactly what all of our readings are about today. They all are “rubber meets the road”/ “what would Jesus do” situations.  If you heard Fr. Joe’s homily last Sunday, you heard him explain that a child was the least valuable person in a household in Jesus’ day.  A child was not an asset, but a liability!  And yet Jesus teaches that if anyone welcomes a child into their life (and we can expand that to mean any social outcast or any marginalized person), then they welcome Jesus into their life, and not only welcome Jesus but also God.

Our reading in Mark begins today with the very next verse; you could call it an attitude adjustment session. John speaks up and asks about a man he saw performing a healing miracle in the name of Jesus. This is the same John who was arguing last week about being the greatest of the apostles. John would like to shut that healer down, since that man wasn’t with Jesus and the apostles.  He says, “We tried to prevent him from doing it”. That guy was a “them” and not one of “us”.  Jesus says, “Don’t stop him!  If he can do a miracle in my name to heal someone, at least he won’t be bad mouthing me!”

This is a wonderful answer, so very practical, with a touch of humor. At the same time, it tells us exactly what Jesus would do when confronting prejudice, or exclusion by someone who thinks they are elite and an insider, someone who imagines they have  privilege and priority over others just because of the people they know or travel with.  Some people always try to make the circle smaller.  By that I mean, they want to keep the power for themselves. They want to only associate with people who will agree with them.  Jesus is always making the circle bigger, including non-Jews, a tax collectors (Matthew), women, (like the one who washed his feet with her tears), political activists (Simon the zealot), a thief (Judas), fishermen (Peter/James/John),  and Paul (a Pharisee-of all things- and tent maker), to name a few.

Wait, there’s still more about any ideas of feeling superior. What about the poor and the needy?  Jesus has a way of making this very personal to the apostles.  There must have been many times that an apostle was given a cup of water on the long, dusty road to Jerusalem (no vending machines).  Jesus says that a person will be given a reward by God for as simple a thing as giving a follower of his a drink of water. In Luke, the apostles wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village that wouldn’t give them water. (9: 54) A cup of water was important, just like many simple kindnesses we can do for others.  People can be rich or poor and still need kindness.  There is no “us” or “them” for Jesus.  Jesus is the ultimate level playing field.

What about the “children” of the world- those who are innocent, or naïve, those who are not clever, not quick, not wise, not experienced; those who have no one to protect or teach them, those who struggle with their faith or are easily led astray? There is no “me” and “you” in the kingdom of God, but there are severe consequences for taking advantage of the vulnerable or using them unfairly – like being thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck! Have you ever seen a millstone? It doesn’t take a WWJD bracelet to figure out Jesus’ attitude toward those who prey on the vulnerable.

Finally, we get the three ways Jesus uses the body to give us an image of how important our choices are. Your hand, your foot, or your eye, he says, is a small price to pay to avoid sin and the punishment of “unquenchable fire.”  But loss of a hand or foot or eye is an enormous loss; the loss is great to illustrate how very great the consequence is.  Jesus is suggesting, of course, that while old habits die hard and change is difficult sometimes, we must change our attitudes, our thoughts, and our behaviors to be his followers.

But there is another lesson here, equally important or possibly more so, about our desires to feel “greater”. To understand, we must look more closely at Jesus.  Two weeks ago I asked you, “How do we, on 1 hand, confess that Jesus is the Christ, and on the other hand, accept the violence and shame and humiliation of the cross?”  Jesus tells the apostles three times that he will be killed; he will die at the hands of men in Jerusalem. St. Paul wrote “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and foolishness to the Gentiles.” (1Cor1:23)

Some people found the humility of Jesus to be ridiculous, absurd. The Messiah, they thought, would come with thousands of angles, who would wipe out the Romans, and take control. They expected a strong, military leader, like King David, who would use force to set the world right – or at least, right for them.

Yet this Jesus was the Son of God? Who allowed himself to be berated and ridiculed, beaten and whipped, tortured and crucified? He traveled with “lowlife” fisherman, people who were sick, and known sinners, instead of demanding the power and status of a god.  Jesus held no property, had no job or income, had left his family and never used his popularity for political gain.  James says “He offered no resistance (to his death).

Can people look at me and see anything that looks like Jesus?  Does my life show humility?  I think I need to have 2nd chances on some things.  Can others tell I am a Christians even I never speak?  Can we live as the last of all and the servant of all?  Maybe the behavior of Christ speaks even louder than his teaching, and “What Would Jesus Do?” is, in fact, the pivotal question.

Hear, see…..and do!

25th Sunday Ordinary Time September 23, 2018

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, Ps 54:3-8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

Last Sunday we “saw” our readings in the very center of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is beginning to reveal himself for who he really is.  The readers, like the disciples, are beginning to see the true face of Jesus – his actions, his teaching, his miracles come together  to prove him to be the Messiah.   While the Gospel might at first look appear to be simple, we are finding the arrangement of the events and teachings are carefully woven together.  This Gospel can be compared to a complex tapestry.  If we look at the reverse side first, we see the colors, but the pattern seems random and disorganized.  Only when we turn the tapestry over to the front, we see the artistry and the picture that those many threads were woven together to create.

So, again as last week, our lectionary has omitted some important and relevant events. Shortly after Jesus’ teaching about his upcoming crucifixion, death and resurrection, he takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to witness the transfiguration.  Jesus’ appearance changes, they hear the voice of God, and see Elijah and Moses.  What Jesus has said is now experienced by the 3 apostles.  It strengthens Jesus for his upcoming death, and better prepares the apostles for the trauma of his death and the shock of his resurrection.  Again, Mark wrote his Gospel as if it was it was a picture being woven– the readers, along with the apostles, are given threads that must be assembled, with the resurrection and Pentecost completing the picture.

They come down the mountain from the transfiguration. The disciples who stayed behind have tried to heal a boy who has had terrible seizures since birth.  They are unable to heal him, and the Jewish scribes are verbally attacking them.  Jesus intervenes and heals the child, then takes the disciples aside privately.  No doubt the disciples are embarrassed and saddened at their failure, and ask Jesus what went wrong.  He replies that “This kind (of illness) can come out by nothing except prayer.”  No matter how well trained, how gifted, how experienced, or how well intentioned we are, our ability to overcome struggles, temptations, and evil all rely on God’s strength, not our own.  Prayer connects us to God, and allows God to heal through us in ways that are impossible otherwise.  This incident, directly following the transfiguration, should have made crystal clear to the apostles the difference between human beings and The One True God.  It should do the same for us.

Our reading begins with the disciples alone with Jesus, walking through Galilee toward Jerusalem.  For the 2nd time, he says, “The Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.”  The statement, a repeat of what we heard last week, is delivered in the third person.  Jesus does not say “I” but by the title of “The Son of Man”, stressing his divinity, and making clear this is a true prophecy of a divine event.  This is not a magic show contrived by a man.  This teaching draws in all that the disciples have watched, heard, and participated in over the last few weeks.  Like us, they struggle with the intense needs of the people around them, their own desires to control what happens in the future, the (somewhat selfish) pride they feel from being in the center of attention as they travel with Jesus, and the fear they experience as the Temple leaders threaten them and the very life of Jesus.  If Jesus will be killed, what will happen to them?  Jesus has told them to “Take up their cross”, and follow in his foot steps. They were afraid to ask, probably because they were afraid to know.

Their response is very human. Their fears become anger, and in their anger they try to grasp power.  It’s an attempt to deny that they are not in control of the situation.  I strongly expect their emotions were obvious, for on arrival in Capernaum, Jesus asks, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”  Embarrassed by his question, they realize their big posturing and proud words were really just cover for their feelings of fear and inadequacy. It’s something that frightened people do, regardless of age. It’s why politicians and salesmen tell you that you are in harm’s way and that something terrible will happen if you don’t buy their product or vote for them.  Fear is a very old way to control people who have not listened to wise teaching and/or searched out facts.  So now Jesus has their attention, and he teaches the facts that will remove their fear.

How can we say this in modern language? If you want to be a leader, your concern must not be centered on yourself. Your attention must be on the people around you.  Instead of striving for wealth and possessions, you must use wealth to see that others have what they need.  You must use your influence and position to ensure others are treated with compassion.  Grasping power and status will not calm your fears. Instead, ease the fears of others with truth and transparency and wisdom.  Reach out to the “children” of the world – people with physical and emotional problems which limit their chance to gain employment, safe and decent housing, and access adequate education and training.  Mentor those people who do not have support from their families, those who have lived with fear and bullying, abuse and neglect, those isolated in prisons and institutions.  Treat those who are considered the “least” in our society as the most valuable, uncover the value of those people which awaits underneath the pain of their past.  In doing this, you will find not only your own value, but you will find God.

How to do this? We don’t need to just talk about it, but actually do it.  Let’s start by getting more information from St. Timothy on their many existing outreach programs.  Many programs need time more than they need money.  It is what Jesus asked us to do.  It will be rewarding to work with other Christians who share our goals.  It will bring us closer to God.  Why not?

Can You See it Now?

24th Sunday Ordinary time, September 16, 2018

Isaiah 50: 4c-9a; Pa 116:1-9, James 2: 14-18, Mark 8:22-37

At first glance, the Gospel of Mark may look like a bunch of stories about Jesus strung together randomly. Only does it begin to make real sense when you realize how very carefully the stories are arranged to illustrate what Jesus is teaching.  Today’s Gospel is an ideal example of that.  This is why I have copied the paragraph below which comes just before the reading in the missal – the two are meant to go together.                                                                                                                                                           (Mark 8: 22-26: When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” 24 Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” 25 Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. 26 Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”)

We are reading from the center and pivotal point of the gospel of Mark – up until this point Jesus is portrayed as a sort of “mystery man” by Mark. Jesus is full of secrets and hides his true identity from people.  Now the mystery begins to be revealed.  Jesus gives the first prediction of his Passion / crucifixion, and then goes on to discuss the cost of the discipleship.  He suddenly speaks very plainly and openly.

So we begin the reading with a man who has lost his sight. Jesus takes him away from the crowd, and puts his hands on his eyes.  The man sees, but the images are distorted.  He only sees men walking who are near to him, and they look like trees.  Then Jesus puts his hands on his eyes again, and has him look up, out into the distance.  This second time, the man sees clearly.  Just like last week, the healing fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah’s description of the Messiah.  This healing is unique, in that is in two parts, for near sight and far sight.  Why is that?  Hold that question for a couple of minutes, for the disciple’s spiritual eyesight will also be tested in this Gospel reading!

After the healing, Jesus and the disciples set out for Caesarea Philippi. They go out of their way to go there.  Where is their final destination? In fact, they are now walking toward Jerusalem for the final time.  Why a side trip to Caesarea Philippi is relevant?  In ancient times, this area, now known as Balinas, was the center for Baal worship, the idol-god of the Phoenicians.  The prophet Elijah had the show-down with the prophets of Baal there over what God the Israelites would worship. We know the area in the Old Testament by the name of Canaan, now called Lebanon, north of Israel.

The Greek mythological god Pan, was said to have been born in Caesarea Philippi also, in a cave where the waters of the Jordan River originate.  Finally, a temple was built in Caesarea Philippi for Caesar Augustus, ruler of the Roman Empire.  Augustus was declared a god shortly before Jesus was born.  What an interesting place Jesus chose, to bring the question of his identity out into the open!  Was Jesus a mere man, a myth, or the Messiah?   The debate continues still today, but any choice eliminates the others.

So we start with, “What do others say about Jesus?” The answers are John the Baptist, Elijah, or other prophets- answers which are all variations on the idea that Jesus is a great and unique man, but still, a human being. But the moment for truth is when the 2nd question is asked: “Who do who say that Jesus is?”  Peter gives the answer we treasure: “You are the Christ.”  It is a confession of faith which is probably stuns everyone to hear it said out loud.  Now it’s no longer speculation, no longer whispered or hesitantly suggested in a round-about way.  Still, Jesus knows Peter and the rest do not fully understand yet what being the Christ means, so he tells them not to tell anyone else.  They will be ready to tell others only after the resurrection and ascension.

In many ways, Peter is like the blind man. He can see Jesus up close as the Christ.  He can recognize the Christ from his teaching, his behavior, and his miracles.

But Peter’s far sight, his ability to understand why they were on their way to Jerusalem is not so good yet.  When Jesus openly launches into the topic of suffering, torture, rejection, and crucifixion, as well as resurrection, Peter reacts like a man still blind; he did not see that coming, and he cannot see the far-reaching implications of his identification of Jesus as the Messiah (Hebrew) or Christ (Latin).

If you think about it, Peter’s reaction is really quite appalling! He is sharp and blunt with Jesus; he tells him off as if Jesus were a fool.  He scolds Jesus as if he is entirely wrong and confused,  like an errant child.  But that doesn’t last long.  Jesus responds even more sharply, calling Peter, “Satan”!  Jesus tells Peter he is short-sighted, blind to the things of God, and he can only see the short-term desires of a selfish man.

Then Jesus gathers the rest of the people around him to press the lesson home. To follow Jesus, a person cannot expect to have wealth, power, social status; Jesus will not become one of the religious leaders, a ruler in a palace, he will not have a great army.  He will be humiliated, ridiculed, and give himself over to those who value political gain over honesty and honor.  Jesus has given up his home, his family, the security of the carpentry shop, and is putting his future into the hands of evil men.

When I read about miracles like the healing of the deaf and mute man last week, or the healing of the blind man today, I think of all those people who have given up on God. They have prayed for healing for a loved one, only to have a broken heart when there was no healing; only suffering. They say Christianity is a lie, because their life never worked out, good behavior was never rewarded.  Yet Jesus turns around these expectations.  Life will be painful and seemingly tragic.  The search for “security” can lead to loss.  Freedom and material success are not promised. Relationships disappoint.

We are to live with eternity in mind, not just today. We are to live to glorify God, not ourselves.  We are to gain our soul, not an estate.  We are to take up our cross, not search for a crown.  So how do we confess that Jesus is the Christ, and accept the cross both?  How do we face conflict and struggle and not lose our faith?  How do we become real agents for social justice and compassion?  These are the questions that Jesus is asking us to answer, and we will continue with this theme for the next 2 weeks.

Astonishment

23rd Sunday Ordinary time, September 9, 2018

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm  146; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 24-31

When kids go back to school, they tell their friends and classmates about their summer vacation. When adults return to work after a summer vacation, they tell their co-workers about where they went and what they did.  It may sound a little odd at first, but our Gospel reading today tells about Jesus’ “summer vacation”.

Jesus started his ministry by teaching the people at the local synagogue, and he healed a sick man there. The people were amazed!  Soon everyone was talking about Jesus, and all the people in the city gathered around the house where he was staying.  So many people came to see him and hear him that he had to go out in the countryside to have enough room.

All this was good. But some of the religious leaders from Jerusalem became jealous because Jesus had become famous.  They wanted to be in charge, they wanted to be in power.  So they started charging Jesus and his followers with sins – they didn’t want Jesus to heal the sick on the Sabbath, they even said that Jesus was evil, a terrible lie.  But Jesus kept on teaching and healing and even raised a little girl who had died back to life.  He was so busy that he and the apostles had no time even to eat!  People followed him, and when he walked from one village to another, a new crowd was waiting for him. People recognized him, where ever he went   He was working non-Stop!

Then Pharisees came to criticize him again for not washing his hands according to tradition. Jesus told them that what we eat or some dirt on our hands isn’t evil, but the evil we do comes from within us.  It comes from what we think about and our failure to love God with all our hearts. The Pharisees were really angry with him, wanting to end his teaching & healing permanently.

Now, we’re all glad to go on vacation because we work hard, we’re busy, we need time for rest, to get away and do new things. If you think your life is hard, and that no one understands, you need to talk with Jesus.  Sit down and tell Jesus that you work too hard, the demands are too great, and people around you are cruel.  He’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

So Jesus told his apostles, “Come away to a lonely place, and rest a while.”  Jesus and the apostles got away from the crowds and the threats of the Pharisees.  They got out of town, out of the country of Israel, away from Galilee, to the region of Tyre and Sidon (sy’don).  It was very different there – the culture was different.  And would you believe it?  Immediately, a woman with a sick child had heard of Jesus, and came and fell down on the dirt in front of Jesus and begged him to heal her child, and she kept asking him, over and over.

So, here’s what you need to know to understand what he said to her: She was Greek, meaning she is not Jewish, as Jesus was.  The Jews referred to themselves as “The Children of God”.  Jesus is not calling her or her child a dog.  He is saying that any Father (God) would feed his children before he would give that food to dogs, even cute little puppies.  Remember the interaction he’d just had with the Pharisees.  They were religious; they spent their days studying the Scriptures.  Yet they had not only tried to block his teaching, they had refused to listen, and they were even plotting against him, calling him “evil”.  But she answers with deep humility; all she wants is a little crumb of healing for her girl.  She does not want riches or power or social status or fame, but only enough for her daughter to be well.  What a contrast between this mother, who has thrown herself at Jesus’ feet, desperately begging for a crumb, and the Pharisees who threaten Jesus in their jealousy of his God-given power by which he helps people.  Jesus praises her, and assures her the child had been cured.

The rest of Jesus’ summer vacation must have been the quiet and restful time he and the apostles had been wanting, for we hear no more of Jesus until he has returned to Galilee.  It’s a walk that could have taken months.  And now, like you, he is back to work. He is surrounded by crowds again. A man is brought to him who was deaf and whose speech couldn’t be understood.   We have that word, “Ephphatha” (ef-fa-tha’), an Aramaic command to open, which gives the scene real authenticity.  And immediately, says the Gospel, he could hear and speak plainly.  Jesus says to tell no one; the crowd is already so large.  Perhaps Jesus even thinks back to those quiet times he had on vacation. But the word spreads quickly.  “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, He has done all things well; he makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,” they say, coincidentally matching the description of the Messiah in Isaiah 35.

When was the last time you were astonished beyond measure? When was the last time you heard something that left you breathless and so delighted that you were at a loss for words?  Do you even remember?  But there are those days when a heartfelt prayer is answered, when you laugh and cry at the same time; and those moments always seem to come from The One who does all things well.

Perhaps this day of Homecoming should not only be a day of returning to Church, and all the opportunities for worship and service, but also a day to return to astonishment, the type of astonishment that comes from a deep and certain confirmation that Goodness is alive and well and available to us in this world.

Perhaps it is time to get away from the anger and hatred of the Pharisees, and go to love and desire to help others, like the Mother. It is time to seek healing from God, like the deaf man.  Change always takes courage, but the littlest crumbs from God’s table are enough to cure the soul. It is always the season for a change of heart.  The time to open our ears to hear God and speak out clearly about God’s love is always right now.