Riding the Roller Coaster

2nd Sunday Easter 4-23-17 Acts 2:42-47; Ps: 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-3

I have never been on a roller coaster. I am more than willing to die having never ridden on a roller coaster.   I have ridden some emotional roller coasters though, and the period of time from Palm Sunday thru Ascension would certainly be a fine way to illustrate one of those!  Just our readings today are good examples of the valleys and peaks of the emotional roller coaster the disciples experienced.

We read from the Book of Acts, of people devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles in the Jewish Temple, living in community, praying and practicing their Jewish faith together, seeing miracles and healings, everyone sharing their wealth and possessions, eating their meals with “exultation and sincerity of hearts, praising God.” New people were daily proclaiming their faith in the Risen Christ. This was a period of time when they had the approval of the people of Jerusalem.   Clearly this was a peak emotional time.

We get confused with the language, though. Was it a social commune or the beginning of communism?  Maybe they were a community that had Communion every day.  Maybe we unthinkingly forget that they lived in reality.  All the apostles had gathered in Jerusalem.  Many other followers, referred to as “the disciples,” had joined them.  They had brought their families with them for the Passover celebration.  They were fisherman, carpenters, potters & weavers from villages throughout Judea, but there were no Bargain/ Red Roof Inns in Jerusalem.  No Red Line to make the commute home easy.

Culturally, the Judean Jews lived in a much closer community than we do.  They were accustomed to open doors and open lives. So they were taken in, room was made for them in local homes. They were living together out of necessity.  What was happening to these believers was alternately too scary, too exciting, too amazing and too powerful to just… leave.  Their shared experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection made it easier to share their lives. Was it the end of time?  They were riding a roller coaster, waiting for the world to change.

We would like to think that time was perfect and maybe even something we could re-create, but Thomas and Peter both understood this was a bubble in time. We recognize bubbles in time.  Ask anyone who deals in “retro” or “antiques” or  even politics.

In the 1st letter of St. Peter we read,  “Blessed be God… who…gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading…Even though you do not see him now -yet believe in him, rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…” That is certainly peak material, befitting the Peter we recognize.  But right in the middle of that he inserts a valley.  “…although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold…may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter knew a lot about faith and failure, belief and betrayal, triumph and testing.  That’s how Peter learned to be The Rock.

Thomas was the holdout among the Twelve; he was a wise man and I have come to respect him. He was more than happy to be subjected to ridicule or rejection by the others.  He told them he didn’t believe everything people said; he wasn’t interested in the newest religious rumors or fads.  He needed proof, he needed to see and touch.  He was willing to risk being wrong, just as he was quick to believe when Jesus came to him.  He went from valley to peak in seconds! As I read some of the newest books out about Jesus and watch some of the more sensational “documentary re-creations” of the Crucifixion on Television these past weeks, I hear some strange mis-information – how Jesus had political motivations and so on, that directly contradict the Gospels.  We need more fact-checkers like Thomas.

Thomas reached possibly more people with the Good News than Paul did. Thomas traveled east, to the sub-continent of India, witnessing to his faith and establishing churches.  It wasn’t all good- he was martyred there, in 72 AD; he poured out his life for Jesus.  Records from the 16th century describe him as beloved by the Muslims, the Christians, and the Hindus.  In fact, at that time, a Muslim maintained his tomb.  If only we could live the faith like Thomas!  This Sunday is celebrated as the “Sunday of Thomas” by the Orthodox Catholics brothers and sisters.

Even our Psalm is a roller coaster reading, the lectionary just conveniently omits the valley part: “All the nations surrounded me on every side.  They surrounded me like bees; they blazed like fire among thorns.  I was hard pressed and falling, but the Lord came to me.”  It is a Psalm of Eucharist (thanksgiving) sung as the people processed to the temple, but it does not fail to acknowledge that life can be very hard; bee stings and thorns/ hard times and pain are part of life.  At the same time, we are reminded that God is with us always.

So today we remember that our heroes, those super-faithful followers of Jesus, were locked in a room out of fear. Thomas had serious doubts about the resurrection.  Even after a glorious Easter, our heroes were beaten and jailed and killed for their faith.  But the “inexpressible joy” is also a real part of our Faith.  We learn that goodness and love and faith are more complex than the emotion of success or fulfillment that accompanies them.  By bearing pain and sorrow, we find faith, too.  Our flaws and our wounds are refined and purified, like precious gold, in our resurrection faith.

 

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Value the Valuable

8th Sunday Ordinary time, year A, 2-16-17, Isaiah 49:14-15, Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-93,  1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34, 2-16-17

Most people recognize this gospel passage about the “flowers of the field.” We can connect to it.  We still treasure flowers, so many years later.  We give them to people to speak of our love, when we beg forgiveness, when we try to console people for their losses.  We wear flowers when we dance, and when we marry.  We print flowers on our clothing, on our wall paper, on our stationery, and on gift wrap.  We grow flowers in our home gardens, in public parks, and as part of the landscaping around shopping malls.   Our lasting fondness for flowers is not just the result of a well-planned media effort by the Florists Association.  Even the harder hearts among us, deep down, recognize flowers as one of those gifts of the earth, a fragile miracle of creation.

Jesus, as always, got the message exactly right, when he used flowers as the memory token of God’s love. I can imagine Jesus as a toddler, running to Mary in that funny little way toddlers run, with a dandelion or some weedy-flower clutched in his little cubby fist, gurgling with joy as he presented it to his mother.  Jesus, of all people, knew intimately what it takes to make a beautiful field of “wild” flowers.  I suspect he spend long hot hours in the family garden as a child,  hoeing with a stick, hauling water from a stream or well, making sure every precious plant in that garden grew to feed his family.

We so glibly repeat the doctrine of Jesus as “fully God and fully human.” Do we remember that for many years, we have no records of Jesus living anything other than the ordinary life of a young Jewish boy? Yet the story of Jesus in the temple with the teachers brings us to believe that his understanding was deeper than even his parents expected.  He must have considered the perfect timing of our world. The breeze, blowing the fragile seeds of the flowers, needed divine help in finding the perfect meadow, the spot of rich soil, the moisture so precious in the dry Middle East, and the clouds parting for the sun – all coming together to bring about a brief and fleeting beauty of the flowers in the fields.

Many of Jesus’ stories and parables use homely, earthy images that everyone listening to him could relate to. But anyone who has tried to craft a few paragraphs that possibly might hold the attention of an audience knows, that to write reasonable well, much less create a lasting image that could withstand thousands of years, that would be copied and translated and minutely studied by scholars ready and able to dissect them, is another matter.

How do you tell children that an invisible God loves them intimately? Why not tell them about the flowers.  Even the youngest child knew what a treasure those flowers were – to bring to Mother, to weave necklaces out of, to run and roll in their sweet scent.  All the children listening to Jesus had gathered the dead flowers along with the cut grass, to be thrown into the fire.  They understood such beauty had value, and the idea that God would lavish such joy on a weed that would last a few days, was proof enough that God would lavish love on them too.

How do you convince poor, needy, over-burdened adults that they are valuable to God? Why not point to the birds.  Many birds have a very short life span, and yet are seen soaring in the sky in joy, lazily drifting on the wind currents. They get their sustenance free, found as seeds in the flowers or on the ground, or as leftovers in the food trough of other animals.  Their homes are made of the leaves and sticks and mud that wait for them.  Everything seems to be provided by God, lavishly given at no cost.   Their life seems so simple.  Then why do we worry, why are we anxious, why do we search out the Coach purse at $500, the newest styles, the hot labels?  Science has proven that constant stress and worry shortens life.  Why do we whine to God that we can’t take the stress- the stress we have brought upon ourselves by valueing what is not valuable?  The birds and the flowers are the model God provides for us to learn to enjoy what is simple and free, like the love which rains down on us.

How do you persuade the sick and forgotten, those who have made a mess of their lives and have been shamed again and again, that God finds them beautiful? Jesus offers them new direction, a new path.  Seek God.  Watch how God loves – with the goodness of creation and the abundance provided for us by the earth.  Yes, when life has not gone well for a while, don’t allow the past to pile up on you and smother you.  The rain will fall on you, good or bad.  Spring always comes back to the world, regardless of the hard winter the warmth of the sun always returns.  Each morning is a new day.  When Isaiah spoke with the people of Israel who had disobeyed God, who had broken their relationship with God and been held in captivity for years, Isaiah spoke of the certainty of a mother’s love.  Even should the unthinkable happen and the mother should forget her child, God will never forget.  God will never abandon.  God will never be without tenderness.

This is the image we need as we face the beginning of Lent, a time to consider our response to God’s love, the tenderness and forgiveness offered to each and every one of the entire family of humanity. It is a message which does not scold and upbraid us for our faults, our turning from God, our refusal to love each other, much less God.  It is more like the doorbell ringing, and the people who have offended us and abused us coming to us, repentant, offering remorse and apologies and, yes, a bouquet of beautiful flowers, hoping to repair our relationship.  Or perhaps we are on the other side of the door, ready to say that we were wrong and intolerant, greedy or thoughtless.  It is a time to sow seeds of peace, of love, of compassion, or of forgiveness, that we may truly be ready for the blossoming of the flowers of hope and joy.

Homily January 8, 2017 Epiphany of the Lord

jan-8-2Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. In early time in the eastern church it was linked with Jesus Baptism as the manifestation of Jesus and beginning of his mission. It has now become the end of the Christmas season. Three wise men from the east come searching for the child Jesus, the light of the world. As Christians, we know Christ and his message and mission well. We know him as the God-man who has made his love a real and special way for salvation. As chosen followers of his we have a special mission to love, reach out and share that message. Yet if we look around, Christianity has in ways failed. Even among Christians, we separation, jealousy, claims of ownership of “the way” or being the one true religion. Yet our God is God of all, of Christians, Jews, Muslims and all the rest of the world. God is a God of love and he love all of is creatures. Do we not become like children of a family asking a parent who do you love more? Does God love the non Christians of the world any less than us? Or is that we are more like a dysfunctional family failing in the most basic thing a family does in loving.jan-8
Throughout time, our “fallen” nature has led us to many faults and flaws in our nature which has resulted in eons of dysfunction. The child Jesus was a light to the world when he came, yet only in suffering and the cross did he achieve what he came for. Certainly his followers have achieved a lot, but have we gone and changed the whole world? Do we look out and care for the countless millions throughout the world in need of hearing and experiencing God’s love? This day of epiphany as we recall the revelation of Jesus to the gentile, non-Jewish world, have we followed Jesus’ command”Love one another as I have loved You?”

Homily January 1, 2017 Mary, Mother of God

jan-1-2Today in all our lives is new years day. In the calendar of the church since Vatican II, January 1 has come to be celebrated under a few different names. In the history of the church, it was the feast of the Motherhood of Mary, only later being changed to the feast of the Circumcision, or of the Circumcision and name of Jesus. January 1st was even called the world day of peace for a few years. Cradled between Christmas and Epiphany, New Years day gets kind of lost in all of the Christmas celebration. jan-1-1The gospel is after all a repeat from the Christmas Midnight Mass without the first verse and with the addition of the circumcision and naming of Jesus. It is significant that the parents of Jesus followed the covenant, and that Jesus as a human shed his first blood in the course of his life. Even in infancy he is obedient to his Father’s will.
At the same time, celebrating the Motherhood of Mary is not foreign to Christmas since it was by her acquiescence that Jesus came into the world. The readings are rich and hopeful, with Paul reminding us of Christ’s mission, His birth, life, death and resurrection. The first reading from Numbers contains the Aaronic blessing adapted and used from that time even to today:

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly
and give you peace!

Homily, December 25, 2016, Christmas

25-dec-jpg-1-jpg2-jpg3As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember that Israel believed in the one true God, Yahweh, and for many generations waited for a savior who would restore Israel or so they thought as a free powerful people. Yet, history past and even now shows God has a way of doing and being Himself in his own way. If we recall, Israel had kings only because the people were jealous and wanted to be like other nations around them. Even so, God took lowly men like Saul and David and raised them, and even brought about the richness of Solomon’s reign. Through all the years, God was more faithful than Israel was. 25-decThe time of Jesus’ birth was a dark time for Israel who were captured and being ruled by the Romans. Certainly, they were permitted to continue to worship and continue their daily life, but only because they were submissive to the Romans. The leaders, the chief priest and scribes and pharisees remained relatively comfortable in their daily life.Their seemingly minor inconveniences were taxes and some Roman laws. It was this time God chose to enter history as a human being. He chose not the temple or the rich homes or the splendor of Jerusalem, but two humble God-fearing believing Jews, Mary and Joseph to be his welcome and guides to the world. His first lodging is related as a stable, not a home but a shelter for animals, and his first visitors were Shepherds from some fields nearby, not priests or anyone notables. Shepherds were seen to be untrustworthy, and not unlike tax collectors and prostitutes. Truly Jesus came 25-dec-jpg-1to the darkness to bring light to all starting where humanity most needed him.
Nothing has changed today, God is with us and he has come for all. He cares most for those who need him most, so what is important is that we not lose the love and need of his love and share it with those who need his love to dispel the darkness in their lives. Let us never forget that His life, death and resurrection has lifted all humanity if they can only find acceptance in their heart.