Stones in the Road

May 16, 2019 Nationa Church General Assembly –  Closing Mass

Acts 13:13-25, Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25, 27, John 13: 16-20

Our readings start tonight with St. Paul.  We first met Saul, as he was called then, at the stoning of Steven.  Saul was there, graciously watching over the coats of those who were stoning Steven, and he watched as Steven died.  Saul was a proud Roman Citizen and an accomplished Pharisee.  Saul knew what was being done and approved of it. He believed he was doing the right thing, preventing the spread of Christianity at all costs – even murder.  He saw his sin as justified.

If Saul had been a stone that day, we wouldn’t have stopped to pick him up. We certainly wouldn’t think of him as a gemstone; but more like a ragged lump of broken concrete.  A lifetime in the tumbler, we think, would not improve him.  But everyone has their Steven- the person they should have helped, but didn’t, the cause they should have supported, but didn’t.  Did that make Saul any less valuable to God?  No.  Did God turn away from him?  No. God is a God of 2nd chances, regardless of how it appears to us at the time.

From there, Saul headed out on the road to Damascus, not to throw stones, but to arrange for the arrest and death of other followers of Jesus.  It was an unusual and dramatic journey.  In Acts chapter 9, you can read the whole story of the appearance of Jesus to Saul.  Note that Saul’s change was not instant, but there were a lot of Christian believers who helped and a learning curve was involved.  It took time for people to believe his conversion and for him to be accepted by the apostles.

Now we see Saul again. There have been some changes since we last saw him. He is a changed man; so changed that his name is now Paul. He is traveling with Barnabas, one of the first Christians to take Paul under his wing. They had been in Antioch in Syria, went next to Paphos in Cyprus, next headed north to Perga in Asia Minor, to go on to the other Antioch, in Pisidia.  They had been teaching the Good News of Jesus, telling of his resurrection, baptizing, laying on hands, establishing faith communities, and encouraging those who were persecuted or ridiculed for their faith.

Paul was going to the Synagogues, praying that his fellow Jews might understand Jesus as the promised Messiah, the One Sent by God. He hoped the Holy Spirit would come to them with wisdom and open their hearts, as his heart had been opened. So he speaks in the traditional teaching style, recounting the history of the Israelites, from when God chose them to the Exodus from Egypt, brought them to the Promised Land, and gave them King David, who had the heart to fulfill every wish of God. Now we see Paul as a jewel of a witness and evangelist, a reflection of the glory of God.  Not too shabby for a broken concrete; that was all we saw him as before.  Perhaps our rating system isn’t always the same as God’s.

Then we have a Psalm about King David. If you remember, his father Jesse did not even bother to bring David in from the fields when the Prophet Samuel (1 Sam: 15) came to anoint a new king to replace King Saul (where have we heard that name before?).  David was too young, too simple, not able to be the crown jewel of a nation, his father thought. He was just a boy who sang psalms and who smelled of sheep.  Pope Francis would have approved! Scholars guess it might have been 20 years later before Saul was killed in battle and David became king. Again, there was a long learning curve, a slow process of David’s development, and David had a history of mistakes along the way. Oh yes, and David had his Bathsheba, when in a moment of human desire he abandoned his freedom, stole her liberty, and selfishly hijacked his God-given gift of authority.  We all do, in one form or another.  We all fail; we embarrass ourselves and those who love us.  Sometimes, even a King like David must prostrate them self in front of God and beg for forgiveness and face the consequences.

Neither Paul nor David ever became perfect, they both made mistakes, sinned, grieved and asked forgiveness. They struggled and became discouraged, faced betrayal and were let down by others they trusted.  In the end, they had to depend on God; they had to face life with all the twists and turns and disappointments.  The Blessed Virgin may have been born without sin, the most pure of women, but she still stood in front of the cross and had to watch her tortured son die in agony.  My father was a jeweler He often said, “There are no gems that are not cut to reveal their beauty.”  There are no smooth stones that have not been hammered or smashed against other rocks to snap off their ragged edges.  Even Jesus tells us that “there is no messenger who outranks the one who sent him.”  Just because we are Christians doesn’t make us perfect or superior or glorious.  The perfection and the glory is God’s.

Does this make us inadequate or without value? No, very much No!  We each have great gifts to bring, blessings to bestow on others, the joys of gratitude to share.  We have the gift of self to give, again and again, to friends and family and strangers and neighbors and to God.  We can bless others with simple acts, with gentle words, with forgiveness and generosity.  We can move from just coming to church, to bringing others to church so they might meet the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.  We can read the story of the Good Samaritan or we can go out into the word and be the Samaritan that ministers to the innocent victims of our society.  That is how we bless and share and give the gift that we are.  No Christian can just be a spectator.

Jesus said, “(The person) who accepts anyone I send – accepts me…and in accepting me accepts (God) who sent me.” The person standing in front of you at any given time is the one Jesus sends.  Someone wrote once that any one who walks into a church is seeking God, although they might not know it.   All the stones in you find in the path of life represent the blessings of the past and of the future.  They represent your cries for help and your prayers of thanksgiving.  They remind you of your choices made and yet to be made.  May Almighty God give you joy and be with you every step of your journey.+

 

 

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Pray for Joy

3rd Sunday of Advent 12-16-2018

Zephaniah 3: 14-18a, Isaiah 12: 2-6, Philippians 4: 4-7, Luke 3: 10-16, year C

Today’s readings work together unusually well to give us reasons to experience Joy. We start with one of the Minor Prophets, Zephaniah.  The book is only 3 chapters long, and most of it is dire warnings of disaster:  “Woe to you”, it says, “who have turned away from God; a day of wrath, of distress, anguish, ruin and darkness is near.”  But we read from the very end of the book, when God forgives the people for their disobedience.  God’s presence returns to them and God rejoices over the people, God sings joyfully because of his people. God saves them from their enemies and makes them famous among the nations for their good fortune. That’s interesting, isn’t it?  Generally it’s the people who sing joyfully about God!

Speaking of unusual, our Psalm today is actually from the very end of the first section of the book of Isaiah.  The Assyrians have destroyed much of Israel, and all of King David’s descendents appear to be dead.  But Isaiah writes of the “shoot from the stump of Jesse”.   Jesse was the father of King David, and one descendent is eventually found alive.  So Isaiah gives us the prophecy of the Messiah.  Our reading today is parts of two songs of praise for the promise of the Messiah and that God has preserved the future of Israel.  “My strength and my courage is the Lord, and (God) has been my savior…Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously.” Coincidentally, these songs of praise echo the song of Moses’ sister Miriam, as the Israelites escape from Egypt, “The Lord is my strength and my song, for he has triumphed gloriously.” (Ex15:1-2) This time the people do sing joyfully about God.

Our 2nd reading likewise is a song of joy from the end of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He writes from prison, awaiting execution.  But Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  The Lord is near.”  So, all three of these readings tell us that at the end of painful, difficult times, God makes joy out of fear and sorrow.

In our Gospel, the pattern changes slightly. We read from the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, signaling something new is happening.  John the Baptist has baptized people in the River Jordan, and God has forgiven their sins.  The people have experienced a real change of heart, and are anxious to change their ways.  They ask “What should we do!?”  John tells them to share their clothing, share their food.  He tells the tax collectors not to over charge people and tells the soldiers not to falsely accuse the innocent or extort money from them.  John the Baptist ties all this up neatly by saying that the Messiah is coming.

So, we have an encouraging message, filled with forgiveness, the good news of a bright future, and lots of singing and joy. But, what do we do with it?  Well, I promised you to look at the nativity story during Advent in some new ways, and I think our readings today lead us to the characters of the Angels and the Shepherds.

The shepherds had little to rejoice about. For the most part, they were uneducated, poor men who had a dangerous job of fighting off large predatory animals who might kill the sheep.  They worked 24/7 shifts, outside, and slept on the ground.  Temperatures near freezing are common in Jerusalem this time of year.  A boy scout might find that fun, but I wouldn’t. Shepherds had all the fun of modern-day garbage collectors, very low social status, and a distinctively bad smell clung to them.  They bring a very humble and “earthy” aroma to the Nativity Scene.

Luke tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared to- of all people- them. If you read scripture carefully, you find most angels appear not as winged creatures, but as strangers, which is why Luke tells us the shepherds were “filled with fear”.  Can anyone here tell me how many times we find the expression “Be not afraid” in all its various forms in the Bible?  Well, this is one of the 365 times.  Then we hear those words of joy: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people (even shepherds): to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord” (2:10-11).  Then a “host” or “army” (the idea is so many you can’t count) of angels sing Glory to God.

I wonder how long it took for those shepherds to breath normally again. But it didn’t take them long to decide what to do.  Luke makes it sound like immediately they agreed to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves what had happened.  And they didn’t have to think about who to tell or what to say.  Once they had seen the infant in the manger, they “made know” the saying which had been told them.  That means they told everybody.   They “returned (to the fields), glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…” They, like the people baptized by John, were changed.

So here is the pattern. Life is hard, daily living is difficult.  Then God appears; in some way we see the hand of God in our lives, or we hear God’s words, and something shifts within us, and joy appears.  The joy is real, and stirs us to some action, and things in our lives change.  The change is clear to people around us, for our behaviors change and our thinking is altered.  In a moment of despair, I once cried out loud to God, “I don’t even know what to pray for!” And the response came back to me, “Pray for Joy.”  So today, I say to you all, “Pray for Joy”.  You will find God when you find joy, for God is the source of real rejoicing.

Focus on God, not food!

 

17th Sunday Ordinary Time,  7-29-18

2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps: 145:10-11, 15-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

This Sunday starts a series of 5 readings taken from the Gospel of John. This is year B, when we expect to read from Mark, so why are we in John for 5 weeks?  It’s no great theological issue, just practicality.  Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, and there simply isn’t enough of Mark to read all year.  So John supplements our readings.

But the Church hasn’t simply found 5 random readings from John. All of them come from the 6th chapter of John, which has been called the “The Discourse (discussion) of The Bread of Life.”    And it starts with the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, a story we have probably all have heard.  A large crowd followed Jesus to hear his teaching and see the healing of the sick, so Jesus went up on a mountain, where the sound of his voice could be best heard.

Of course, the image of a mountain should bring up an image in any Bible student’s head – the image of Moses meeting God on Mt. Sinai, the gift of the Ten Commandments and the covenant.  Moses led the people to freedom, and here is Jesus, with the gifts of God for the people, to lead them to new life.  John uses these images and comparisons often in his Gospel to help people understand the importance of Jesus, his teachings, and the role he will play in our lives.

I need to say up front that this Gospel was not given to us to teach about sharing. Sharing is important and most of us are to some degree infected with the greed of materialism that is an epidemic in our society.  I would love to see a more even distribution of food and resources in this world, but that’s not why John wrote this passage.

Sadly, I also have to add that this is not about feeding hungry people particularly. Hunger is only the setting in which John tells his message.  Feeding the hungry is a terrific and urgent need in this world.  The most recent numbers tell us that every year more people die from preventable hunger than died in the Holocaust, yet the food to feed them is available in this world.  Clearly hunger is a huge and pressing problem, but that is not what John is trying to tell us here.

So, Jesus turns to Philip, asking where to buy food for the people. Philip is the go-to guy here because Philip was from Bethsaida, which is where the story takes place.  Oddly enough, it would seem some scribe was startled by this question, and not wanting Jesus to appear as less than the “Son of God”, assures us that Jesus is just testing Philip.  It is a humorous and enlightening line in the story which serves to remind us that the Bible is not always a book you can simply pick up and read with understanding without studying the background information, the culture, and a sense of the point of the passage.  Trillions of hours of study have been spent comparing the many manuscripts we have and knowledgeable scholars can sometimes trace where a scribe’s comments have altered the text.

But Philip is not concerned with where to go shopping, because the cost would far exceed possibility. Then Andrew appears with a boy who has 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.  What does this seemingly simple verse tell us?  Well, three important things actually.   First, where have we heard about barley loaves before?  In our first reading – the story of the 20 barley loaves feeding 100 people!  That story would have been a classic story well known to the audience John wrote for.  Bingo!  We know this story has something to do with the power of God.  There is a miracle going on here.  But Jesus is not a prophet, like Elisha, but far greater, and will feed 5,000 people with 5 loaves.  A multiply of 1,000 tells us we have surpassed human ability to provide food, and moved into the range of divine.

But secondly, barley was an important crop in Jesus’ land. It was drought resistant, grew well in the heat, and ripened quickly.  The harvest would have been at Passover time, and Passover has some very important implications in our story.

Passover was near, John mentions. It was the event that began the escape from Egypt for the Israelites, one of the cornerstone events of the Jewish faith.  Passover is about the death of the cruel slave holders and the freedom of the slaves.  Part of the journey to freedom for the Israelites included the bread (“manna””) which God gave the people to eat as they traveled to the Promised Land.  It was not just bread, but “supernatural” bread, the “daily bread” which Jesus included in the Lord’s Prayer.  John’s Gospel is full of Passover references, linking the Jewish history to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And where else does our eternal life with God begin but with the resurrection of Jesus?  A barley loaf may sustain life, but the gift of life is in the resurrection.

Our Psalm says, “The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” John wants us to stop focusing on a desire for food, and focus on our natural and necessary desire for God.

After the people reclined to eat, Jesus gave thanks, blessing the food, and they ate as much as they wanted. Will God only portion us out small allotments of grace and mercy?  Will God weigh out tiny morsels of love?  Are we permitted only a few drops of joy in God?  No, no; God gives us grace and mercy, love and joy in abundance!  God is a God of plenty, of more than we ask for.   Luke (6:38) has a wonderful way to put it:  “…give, and it will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

And what about the fragments? The early Christians had a collection of teachings called “Didache”, which tells us how they understood the fragments of left-over food. It says, “Concerning the fragmented bread, ‘We give thanks to you, our Father.  As this fragmented bread was scattered on the mountains, but was gathered up and became one, so let the Church be gathered up from the four corners of the earth into your kingdom.’”  Still today, we treat the crumbs left from our Eucharistic bread as precious creations from God’s hand, as the Body of Christ, and we do that as we remember how God gathers people, more numerous than bread crumbs at the table, as precious lives that would have yet another life in the light of  God’s Kingdom.

But our passage ends on a somber note. The people saw the sign, the miracle of the food, and called Jesus, “the one who is to come into the world”.  Moses had told them of the “one who is to come” back in Deuteronomy (18:19), but John is warning us that Jesus is not just a replacement for an earthly military king like David.  John wants us to understand the true meaning of why the Son of God came to earth.

So our task today is to remember why we “do” Eucharist. “The very word, “Eucharist” means to give thanks.  We remember Jesus, and we give thanks for his love for us, his sacrifice of himself for us, for what he taught us and for how he showed us the way to live fully, deeply, and with love.  We remember that he is the Son of God, the Holy One who came to fulfill a prophecy from long ago, the One who had victory over sin and death, the One who changed everything.

SLOW SEEDS??

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time 6-17-18

Ezekiel 17:22-24, Ps 92:2-16, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, Mark 4:26-34

All of our readings are beautiful and encouraging today. Our first reading, from the Prophet Ezekiel, brings us poetry about God’s love for us. After the Exile to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the people of Israel feared that all the promises God had made to King David were forgotten. Ezekiel assures them that God has not forgotten, and that he will restore them as his people. God’s people will be like a “withered tree that blooms.” In fact, God will take from the very top of the giant cedar tree a tender shoot, a small branch, and he will plant that shoot on a mountain top. In time that small tender shoot will become a giant cedar tree. This is a poetic reference to a descendent of the last King from David’s line who was still alive. The promise that the Messiah will be a descendent of King David will still be fulfilled in Jesus. Not only that, but all the nations of the earth, represented by all the birds that nest in the tree, will gather once again. It is a wonderful image of evil overcome and goodness triumphant.

The Psalm also speaks of flourishing palm trees and great cedar trees, trees bearing fruit even in old age, vigorous and sturdy, a testament to God’s goodness and justice. Again, this poetic image brings us confidence in the permanence of God and God’s care for us. We can depend on the eternal security we find with God. We find strength and stability, as well as refreshment and restoration with God.

St. Paul in the 2nd reading speaks as a missionary who has traveled thousands of miles for God, facing multiple threats to his life as well as rejection and ridicule for his faith. He has found that wherever he is, home or away, in life or in death, his goal is to be pleasing to the Lord.   We will all face a final judgment, and all that we have done will be open to view. But that does not frighten us if what we have done has been good and we have led a life in imitation of Christ’s.

In our Gospel, we have two parables about seeds. Both parables deal with the same problem…why things appear as they do if the kingdom of God is indeed present. How can we experience evil and sickness if God is God of the world? We ask the same questions that the people asked of Ezekiel – has God forgotten us? Why is there so much evil, and why is life so difficult?

In the first parable we have today, the Growing Seed, the man sows, he sleeps and rises (this image indicates the passage of time) and then the man harvests the crop. There is every reason to believe the man also tills the soil, weeds, irrigates, and protects the crop while it grows. Ask any farmer – they do not sit idly by and wait for God to do all the work. Likewise, farmers will tell you they do not create the growth. They do the sowing and God begins process of growth.  But the parable says in effect, “The Kingdom is like a farmer who goes about his normal process of sowing seeds in the earth. Then the hand of God produces a plant and its fruit, and then comes the harvest.” It is a process of waiting patiently for the crop to ripen, and only at the right time can the harvest begin. The Kingdom of God will be ripe at the right time; the reign of God will be complete in God’s time.

The parables of the Sower who casts seed on the path and the rocks, in the thorns, and in the good soil, the Growing seed and the Mustard Seed ( all found in the same chapter of Mark) all answer questions and challenges to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom. Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom earlier in this same chapter of Mark when he told the parable of the man who sowed seed on the path and on the rocky ground, in the thorns and on good soil. He told his disciples then, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God…” But the people’s response was, “where?” and “why aren’t we free from Roman rule?” and “why are we still poor?” and “why are bad things still happening?” So Jesus tells us that it’s not a simple thing, this Kingdom. It is not an outward remodeling job of the world, where workers come and repair things on a schedule. Rather, the Kingdom is a total change of human hearts. It is happening at just the right speed, and the passage of time will be necessary. But there was a time of sowing (interpreted as being in the ministry of Jesus), a period of time is necessary for growth (now), and there will be a time of harvest. Traditionally in the Bible, “harvest” is the time of judgment and the end of time. Like the plant growth, some of which is not visible because it happens under the ground, we will not see all that happens during the growth of the Kingdom.

So we do not bring in the kingdom – we are the servants of the King who continue to sow and weed and water and protect, but we are not the cause or creator. Our own lives must follow the same process. God continuously reaches out to us, teaching us to obey, to reach out in love, to better understand the scriptures, to worship with a more pure heart. God is constantly planting the seeds of Godliness in us and others. We must nurture those seeds so that new life may grow within us. The process is slow, often delayed by our own distraction with other things.   The change within us must occur at what we might call a sub-cellular level, which cannot be rushed. I have often wondered, at the rate of one wafer per week, how many years it would take for all of my body cells to be made of Jesus. I haven’t done the math, but I am sure that the answer is, “a lifetime.” The fullness of the kingdom will come when the time is right. We can be confident that God, the cause and creator, is at work and God can and will bring us safely to harvest. Jesus is reassuring us the process is in motion; the goal has been set and will be achieved.

It is easy to become discouraged when we see dishonest people with tremendous wealth and power. It is hard to watch liars and thieves prosper. It makes us angry when we see innocent people suffer, it is terrible to see children shot down in schools. It is hard to watch people loose their savings and freedom to sickness or injuries which might have been prevented. We want to shake our fist at God, question the very existence of God, or demand an explanation of this world which seems filled with evil and injustice. Why would we not question that the kingdom of God is here, now?   How and when will the Kingdom finally overcome everything we judge to be wrong and unfair?   That is the question that we are given an answer for today.

Paul says it best when he writes, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) The Prophet Isaiah says God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), and St. Peter said, “Do not ignore this one fact, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2Peter 3:8-9)

Continue to sow the seeds of love and truth, and believe.

Another View of Easter

 

4th Sunday Easter, April 22, 2018

Acts 4:8-12;  Psalm 118;  1 John 3: 1-2;  John 10: 11-18

 

Today, we look again at Easter, starting with the Gospel of John. John inserted teaching dialogues by Jesus between some of the action scenes. The teaching we read is about Jesus’ coming death in terms of “The Good Shepherd”, which then leads into Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. John, you see, identifies the raising of Lazarus as the turning point when the High Priests began to plot to kill Jesus. These scenes flow together to build up to the crucifixion. We are doing exactly what the disciples did after Easter –looking back at what Jesus taught, and discovering new meaning in the light of the Resurrection.

Here are the key Gospel verses: “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd and I will lay down my life for the sheep. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.”

Background: Palestine is at the intersection of Asia, Europe and Africa, so there are many large wild predators – Persian Lions, Cheetahs, Lynx, and leopards. A shepherd would have good reason to protect himself, to allow these fierce cats to take a sheep, and not try to intervene. The people understood the grave danger of being a shepherd. In this passage, Jesus repeats his promise to lay down his life for the sheep 3 times; making a sacred oath that he will give his life for us.

Notice that Jesus does not put limitations on this oath. It’s not, “if” the sheep is well behaved or “if” it is obedient. In fact, there are no “If” clauses in the promise. We are given this loving protection without reservation. Those listening to Jesus, not realizing he was talking about people, found this promise extravagant and unnatural.

Our 1st reading is a continuation from the Book of Acts we have been reading since Easter. Acts is a thriller; it is high drama, with conflict and death. It is a coming of age story for the disciples. It is an exciting history of the early church. It is a self improvement book, a great stand-alone read.

Anyway, today we read the 3rd of Peter’s sermons. The 1st was at Pentecost, the 2nd was when Peter healed a man crippled from birth and was arrested for healing him. This 3rd sermon is Peter responding to the charges of the High Priests the following day. You immediately notice how bold and articulate Peter is. He is no longer the rough fisherman who denied Christ on Good Friday and fearfully hid in the locked room on Saturday. He is “Peter infused with the Holy Spirit” now.

Peter starts by telling the High Priests that the cripple was healed in the Name of Jesus (get that – merely the name has power to heal), AND that Jesus has risen from the dead. That blast of information is enough to knock the High Priests off their feet. Then Peter quotes Scripture, just as Jesus would have.

He bases his argument in Psalm 118, which shows the High Priests that they have made a terrible error in judgment. They have rejected the very person and the salvation promised in yet another promise, by God, long ago in a Psalm of King David. Jesus is the very cornerstone, the support piece on which rests our salvation. Jesus is the “promised one”. Our lectionary does not include the Priests’ response; you can read it on your own.

But our lectionary does give us part of Psalm 118. If you were a youth group, I would have scripts with your parts identified by speaker so that you could act this out. It is a beautiful piece of ancient liturgy; this is dramatic liturgy at its best, with speaking parts for the priests, the people and the king. It was written for the occasion of a great victory, a celebration which proclaimed God as their strength in danger. Each speaker proclaims God’s mercy, and there is testimony of how God saved them from what seemed to be certain death. They were surrounded on every side in battle – the “enemy encompassed me like bees”, the King says. “They flared up like fire among thorns. I was hard pressed and was falling, but the Lord helped me.” Who has not felt like that at some time in their life?   Who has never felt overwhelmed and that their problems were greater than their strength?

But the Lord makes the tiny and weak victorious over evil and death, just as the Lord had brought tiny Israel, overwhelmed by larger and greater forces, to military victory. At that time, Israel thought it was the rejected stone. But now we understand the one who was rejected as Jesus.   And Jesus has become the anchoring base for our lives, our church, and our world. “This,” the king in the Psalm announced, “is the day the Lord has made,” using the same expression we use to announce Easter. The priests respond to the king with a blessing: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” We make church relevant when we see and celebrate the movement of God in our own lives, here and today in our liturgy.

So Jesus has told us that we are of great value to him, so much so that he will suffer and die for us. Realizing that Jesus is alive, Peter is filled with the Spirit of God, boldly preaching that Jesus loves us and protects us from evil. Peter confidently places his own life and well-being in Jesus’ hands. And the Psalm assures us that God has loved and protected believers from long ago. These readings give us another viewpoint of the meaning of this Easter Season and why we celebrate it with such great joy.

Homily January 7, 2018 Feast of the Epiphany

ep3Today’s feast of the magi is only found in Matthew. It is a tradition coming from the east and is a manifestation or appearance of Christ followed by his appearance with John the Baptist. The readings and the feast are a contrast if innocence and evil of darkness and light. This feast was joined with the season of Christmas when that feast came about. First we see the magi following the light or the star looking for the new king to be born. Once they met Herod, they found a man who in his actions and relating to strangers ep4would seem suspicious in his trying to be overly secretive in finding the king the magi sought. His jealousy and evilness show through his actions and certainly made there dream to go home a different way much easier. Plus, we should add that the meeting of the child must have been an experience rewarding the journey they made and the innocence of their pursuit.

Today, our world has changed in many ways, but some have remained the same or gotten worse. Innocence and evil still coexist, or the darkness of evil still works at extinguishing the light of good things. Christ came to bring his kingdom and light to the world, but it is still up ep2to us to avoid the darkness. Certainly none of us is perfect, but we can work at looking out for each other. We can do this by being conscious that darkness lurks around us always. On the other hand, let us not forget the loving community and family and friends around us. Let us always remember, that when we see something wrong, that like the magi, we can chose to take a different way.

What does Salvation mean, anyway ?

Holy Family, 12-31-17

Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Psalm 105: 1-9, Hebrews 11: 8, 11,12,17-19; Luke 2: 22-40

We read today from the 2nd chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke makes Jesus the focal point to explain the loving and generous ways of God. Luke frequently uses the title “Lord” for Jesus. “Lord” is the same name used for God in the Greek Old Testament. Jesus, Luke tells us, is God come to earth. Jesus came to all people. Luke takes great effort to relate how Jesus brought salvation to the poor, women, children, “sinners”, and outcasts (like the Samaritans).

In fact, two of Luke’s favorite expressions are “preach the gospel” and “salvation.” “Preaching the Gospel” includes the entire ministry of Jesus- his teaching, healing, and compassion were all part of the good news that God has come to His people. “Salvation” is defined in Luke 19:10 this way: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Too often Christians use this word but aren’t so sure what it means. The words salvation and “Savior” both come from the same Latin word (salvare), which means to save. The basic idea of being saved or salvation is that God will “find and free” us from any kind of evil, just as God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God frees us to fully participate in all the goodness of life and in all the blessings of God. It makes sense then that God wishes to save us from sin as well as the evils that are the consequences of sin. Jesus acts as the “middle man” or mediator who suffers and dies to bring us this salvation both now and in eternal life.

So, with that long introduction, we begin with the Jewish ritual purification of Mary, when a sacrifice of turtledoves or pigeons was offered 40 days after the birth of a child, as required by the Law of Moses in Leviticus 12. The mother is welcomed back into the community after the birth.

A second ritual was also completed, that being the “redeeming” of a first born child. All first born children – and animals, for that matter – were presumed to belong to God. Children were “bought back” with a small offering of money. You can find that Law in Exodus 13:13. God-fearing parents of every century feel the need to thank God for the miracle of a child. It’s a tradition that makes great sense. The parents publically proclaim the child is theirs, as a gift from God, and they will support, nurture, teach, and raise the child in the faith. These traditions introduce the infant to the worship of God in the community of believers, not unlike Christian infant baptism.

This scene with the infant Jesus also underlines the larger idea of redemption. For Christians, redemption is closely tied to salvation. Marie Monville wrote this: “To redeem means to exchange one thing for another, to buy back, to recover the value of something by exchanging it for another. God replaces…weakness with his strength, the ugliness of sin with the beauty of forgiveness, the blackest darkness with his brilliant light.”  It is sort of like redeeming something in a pawn shop!  In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, St. Paul wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price”. That is the Catholic view of the crucifixion – that the price Jesus paid for us to be redeemed and freed from sin was his own life.

Two significant messages are then delivered by Simeon and Anna. Simeon, a “righteous and devout man” was looking for the “consolation of Israel” – meaning the salvation which the Messiah was to bring. Messiah is an Aramaic word meaning “liberator”, which means the same as “Savior”. Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah, and now he proclaims that he has seen the Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not only the Jews. Simeon says, “…my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” God has kept his promise to Simeon, to the prophets (Isaiah 49:6), and to King David.

Simeon offers a blessing of thanksgiving to God and a blessing of prophecy to Mary and Joseph. Out of Simeon’s mouth comes a very precise statement of the miracle of Jesus: the child brings peace and the promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled. In addition, Jesus is the entrance of God into the world for all people; he is a revelation and light (new understanding). Jesus will bring salvation and judgment; he will bring lasting changes to the world, and the changes will result in a strong push-back from the darkness in the world.

One of the unique traits of Luke’s Gospel is that he often introduces a strong man counterbalanced by a woman. Luke names this woman, which is highly unusual in writings of the day; we actually have more information about Anna than Simeon. We know her age, her father’s name and her tribe. Luke tells us that Anna, like Simeon, was very devout, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” She too said a prayer of thanksgiving for the child Jesus and, like the shepherds, immediately “spoke of (Jesus) to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna’s waiting is over, her patience has been rewarded, and then she participates in the preaching of the Gospel.

As always, God chooses us (all) and provides what we need to be in a personal relationship with our Creator. We are offered freedom from slavery to sin and darkness, the price has been paid, and we must act on our choice. That is one reason we have all those Bible characters who are flawed and foolish; we read about them stumble and fall, then ask for forgiveness and return to right relationship (what Christians call righteousness) with God. And people who experience this freedom want to share it with others. Amazing – all this from just a portion of the 2nd chapter of Luke!