Homily April 29, 2018 the 5th Sunday of Easter

5 easter 4St. Paul was a Pharisee who was totally committed to the ruling group. His devoutness and devotedness set him apart in wanting to quickly rid Israel of what he saw as a new and dangerous cult called Christians. To him, they are going against the law and prophet and teaching a new way, teaching a resurrection, and even replacing the Torah. To him, 5 easterthey were trying to replace everything. As a result he took action by getting “warrants” to arrest these Christians and set out for Damascus. It was on that road where he met Jesus, and he was never the same again. His encounter on the way totally life changing. It is then that he learns and believes in Jesus and becomes an avid follower. Yet, in our first reading, we see the difficulty he has of being accepted. Ultimately, he was and of course took Christ’s teaching and went far and wide and spread the seeds or shoots of the vine where ever he went. .

Today that vine of our third reading remains and the fruit it bears depends on the care that we ourselves have given it. This means we must work at it. What it produce requires our attention. Christ calls every day, we respond with our attention and prayer. It’s as 5 easter 3easy as lifting our heart or mind and doing the right thing. We are called to make those choices every day.The start of a healthy vine and a Christian is with their self.  our personal relationship with God and our relationships and interactions with others determines the health of the vine and our worthiness as part of it. We all know the challenges of the relationships and are called to be Christ like in our daily life.

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Homily March 18, 2018- the 5th Sunday of Lent

lent5Jeremiah today straight out tells the people the old covenant is not working and that God is going to give them a new covenant. This new covenant will be different, there will be no temple and it will be written on the heart of each believer, not centered on a place or persons. In John today, we see Jesus say that his dieing by being lifted up for all of us is the new covenant. His life, his death, his suffering is all for the glory of God and the lent5-2institution of the beginning of new covenant which we come to know as the church. But remember, our church is not a building,or a place, but within our hearts, within our communities. Jesus and his church is present when we gather in his name. The sacrifice of the new covenant was done once for all, but we continue that sacrifice when we celebrate the Eucharist. Christ’s Body and Blood becomes present for us to consume on the table we use to prepare for it. As we prepare for Easter, it good that we recall God has given us a new law, a new lent5-3covenant. But it is also a responsibility. lent5-5We are accountable for that law written on our hearts, a law of love, mercy and, yes, even forgiveness. It is a law Christ understands because he was like us as a human being, except for sin,and as divine he shares in God’s patience and love. So, we are called to look out for each other and to care. We must take to heart the words we say each Sunday “ Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

 

 

Homily February 25, 2018- the 2nd Sunday of Lent

2lentIf we look at the middle east today, the countries there are constructs of those conflicts and the shifting sands of tribalism that was current in biblical times, even today the circle of life for these people began is family and the village and tribe. Outside of that all are strangers and looked at suspiciously. In the Bible, recall Israel as a tribe spent time in Egypt and in Babylon(Iraq today), subservient to others. The outlook on life was different 2lent1and certainly even human sacrifice was not unheard of. We must not think that humanity just arrived at the 21st century and reached a measure of civility. Evil was in the world then as it is here now. While the story of Abraham and Isaac is a revelation of faith and trust and God’s care, it is also a reminder of what our ancestors were and what we have become. That hatred and murder and brutality are still in our world makes the point that much needs to be done to bring about a true revelation of God’s will for humanity to be one in his love.

Christ came into just such a world and in his one life had the call to bring God’s word to 2lent3humanity. He knew what lay ahead of him and that his death was inevitable. Yet he knew God’s grace was a living and growing thing that would evolve and spread as time went on. Today’s gospel was meant certainly for his apostles, but his assurance also. None of us starts out on a task without first preparing and assuring our self of making progress. That is what Christ did and he began a way, a path, a journey for all to follow to his Father. Many in the world today follow Christ, yet we see that there certainly are those who don’t. Hatred, violence, mistrust, poverty or just being 2lent4helpless all lead to the ills and evil we see today.

Our faith calls us to look around and to reach out. We need be careful of exhibiting the comfort and triumphalism of the Scribes and pharisees who thought all was well and that they had all the answers. The only one with all the answers is God and he has bestowed them as he has seen fit and revealing them as he determined we were ready for them. More than anything, this is what we see in our readings today.

Homily January 28, 2018-the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

4sun 1I want to take a look at what St Paul’s letter said this morning. It seems that in many ways he seems to criticize everybody. He says being single means that a person is free to be concerned about things of the Lord. Married people, he says, are concerned about their spouse and things of the world. Yet in the very beginning of Genesis, we see God say 4sun 2it is not good for a person to be alone. In fact, Christ made marriage a Sacrament because it is the very normal and spiritual way that most are called to follow Christ to salvation. It is a partnership of love centered in Christ. Certainly married couples have troubles and all the problems of the world, but you know single people have problems too. Being single does give more time, but being alone, childless is not always the gift he makes it seem. Further he seems to imply that married people are less spiritual than single people. It is just not true, as there are multitudes of holy and 4sun 3spiritual married people. For some reason, the church through the centuries has focused on the single people, the religious, the clerics. But let’s be honest, the church is made up of all the baptized. Sanctity and sainthood comes for all who live their lives in the faith and love of Jesus Christ.

So, to sum up, I would say we should realize that the married person, and the single person(whether lay, religious or clergy) reflect God’s love in different ways and different paths. Yet, truly, God has made each of us individually and calls us each individually, except those who are married, he has said that then two have become one flesh.

See. Go. Stay.

2nd Sunday Ordinary time. 1-14-18

1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Ps: 40:2, 4, 7-10; 1 Corinthians 6:13-20; John 1:35-42

We begin our readings in the middle of the story of Samuel. Who is Samuel, how does it matter; and why is he sleeping in the temple next to the Ark of God?  The answers are found by returning to the 1st chapter of 1 Samuel in the Old Testament.  Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah, and Hannah.  Peninnah was very proud that she had given Elkanah several children. She purposely teased and taunted Hannah and upset her by bragging about the children.  Hannah was unable to have a child, a cause of social disgrace in that culture. Children were a measure of a woman’s worth.

One day Hannah went into the temple to pray. She was weeping and moving her mouth in silent prayer.  The Priest, Eli, thought she was drunk and scolded her.  She told him that she was not drunk, but upset.  Then Eli blessed her and later she had a son, who she named Samuel. (Hannah’s desire for a child is very like the story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.) Then Hannah prayed in thanksgiving, saying, “My heart exults in the Lord….I rejoice in thy salvation.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.  The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.”  (It is a prayer that is very much like Mary’s Magnificat.)

When he was old enough, Hannah brought Samuel to the temple to stay with Eli, so that Samuel could learn the ways of God and grow up in God’s presence. The Jews of that time believed that the Spirit of God lived in the temple, and filled the Ark of the Covenant.  What better place for the boy to sleep than next to the Ark?

Eli’s sons, who were to succeed him as Priest, were disobedient to God and their father. But we are told that “the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.”  (Luke’s Gospel tells us that after the boy Jesus talked with the teachers in the temple, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”)

When Eli finally understood that God was speaking to Samuel, he taught him to say, “Speak for your servant is listening.”   Those words are carried into our Psalm.   In Psalm 40 we read, “Sacrifice or offerings you wish not, but ears open to obedience you gave me….so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll.  To do your will is my delight.”  And the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Jesus as reciting this Psalm this way, “I have come to do your will, O God.” John’s Gospel has repeated instances when Jesus listened to God.

So Samuel’s story has elements that are very familiar. The Gospels draw on the stories from Jewish history to give us the message that Jesus was indeed “The One Who was to Come”.  The people who first read these Gospels knew by this that Jesus was the Messiah.

So the 1st reading and the psalm prepare us for the Gospel.  It is like the difference between saying to a child, “Here’s your milk”, and taking a child to a dairy farm, where they can see and touch a cow, hear it moo, and watch as the milk comes from the cow into the tubes to the tanks where it is pasteurized and perhaps chocolate added.  That brings about understanding for the child.  We need an understanding of some of the many ways the Jewish scriptures are not separate, but very connected to the New Testament.  We see patterns that are not yet complete, and we have a sense of anticipation about the message of Jesus, the Messiah.

John the Baptist heard the message, and he foretold the coming of the Messiah. He did the will of God when he baptized Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  The next day, where our reading picks up, he said it again.  It initiates a chain reaction which changed the course of history.  Two of John’s disciples heard him, Andrew and John (we think), and they immediately followed Jesus.   It must have been a scene permanently engraved in John’s memory, because he even records the time of day.  The implication is that staying that long with Jesus is a sign that the men were dedicated to remain with Jesus.  From there, the excitement spread to Peter and beyond.

This is different from the calling of the disciples in the Gospel of Luke. Remember, John is not writing to preserve a step-by-step historical record of the events as our culture might expect.  John is instead writing to explain who Jesus was, to reveal the character and motive of Jesus’ ministry and purpose.  Still, John’s rendering of his joining Jesus at this time is supported by Peter’s remark in Acts 2:21-22.  Peter wants to fill Judas’ place with someone “who accompanied us beginning from the baptism of John.”

The verb “follow” and the directive “follow me” appear 4 times in 6 verses, and many other times in the Gospels, don’t mean to just to walk along with. It is a much deeper connection.  Notice that Jesus initiates the conversation.  Jesus has come to earth to save the lost.  Jesus does not hesitate to get to the heart of the issue; he asks, “What are you looking for?”  These men would not have been disciples of John the Baptist if they had not been seeking a fuller life with God – something deeper than just living and then dying.  “Where are you staying?” is a desire to know Jesus fully. His response, “Come, and you will see” conveys that he is open to their questions and offering a challenge to their faith.

This scene introduces us to many of John’s key words. “Coming” to Jesus is to have faith; “seeing” Jesus is to understand his message. As Fr. Raymond Brown, one of the primary authorities on John, puts it, “If the training of the disciples begins when they go to Jesus to see where he is staying and stay on (abide) with him, it will be completed when they see his glory and believe in him.” All this adds to our understanding of the scriptures.

But what do we do with it on Monday?  Fr. John Pilch writes that this gives us a highly successful pattern for telling others about Jesus: (1) A believer in Jesus (John the Baptist) tells someone (his disciples) about Jesus and (2) he uses a special title of Jesus (“Lamb of God”). (3) The believer shows that person Jesus (in acts or words). (4) Jesus then calls the newcomer and brings them to faith.

We, then, are to live honest and true lives for all to see. When people ask us why we act this way, we can share our faith. When people around us get discouraged or mired in bad choices and we respond with compassion, or when we are generous to those in need, we give people who watch us reason to believe what we say. When we are in conversation, opportunities arise to explain why we go to church and believe in God. We can speak of our faith with confidence and pride, and answer questions about our beliefs. The Holy Spirit will intervene with a gift of understanding and love.   This has always been the primary way of sharing faith, person to person, and will likely remain the primary way for Christianity to thrive and flourish. Someone tells us, we go to Jesus, see where he is, and stay with him to see his glory.

Homily January 14, 2018 the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2sun4The readings today are about calling. First we heard the call of Samuel. Even the older prophet Eli did not realize God was calling until the third time and so Samuel answered 2sun1on the fourth call. In the gospel, we see the call of the Apostles first inspired by John the Baptist pointing to the “Lamb of God” and the person of Jesus leading them to ask what he was doing. I say doing because where are you staying is exactly what they meant. They meant what are you about. In our own way we all have been called through our baptism by way of our parents. I also submit that in our lives, we have at times answered Christ’s call as we have lived out our life in the choices we have made, especially at key moments in our life. It is at those moments when we prayed, thought or ultimately opened our hearts to listen, to discern what was right, what was God’s call for me. That is the key to hear and listen to God’s word and how it affects us. I must say that sometimes that call says what 2sun5we don’t want to hear, but ultimately listening and acting in accordance with that call usually brings us to a comfortable result, one that eases our life’s burdens. The hard part is discerning God’s intention especially if it entails a change in our life that we perceive as difficult. God calls many to serve and in various ways, Most of us will never be asked to travel to far away places, but in today’s world we are called to help and reach out to the starving and homeless of the world as best we can. We are asked to live and act toward others as Christ did. As a community we do that in many ways and I encourage our community to continue and listen as we begin this new year.

Those Teeny Tiny Christmas Tree Lights and Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent 12-10-17

 Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; ; Psalm: 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14;  2 Peter 3:8-14;  Mark 1:1-8

Our Gospel reading is the opening 8 verses of Mark’s Gospel.  Mark chooses to begin with a quotation from Isaiah, chapter 40.  Mark clearly has chosen carefully, and we need to understand why he uses Isaiah and how he uses the images in it.

Chapters 40 to 55 of the book of Isaiah are referred to as the “Book of Consolation of Israel.” Israel was overrun by the Babylonian army some 500 years before Christ.  It is a story of great shame and loss. Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple looted and burned to the ground.  The people were captured and taken from their homeland into exile.  According to Isaiah, the refusal of the Israelites to follow God’s laws, and their unwillingness to obey God was the reason for this great tragedy.  But now the Israelites are being forgiven by God, and they will be granted their long-awaited freedom and return to rebuild their homeland.

It is a time of reconciliation. Isaiah is told to speak tenderly to the Israelites, or literally to “speak to their hearts”.  The expression is very maternal- suggesting that Jerusalem is the “mother city”, and the people are children returning to a mother’s love.  Although their punishment was severe, the Lord is returning to their midst, and the Lord should be welcomed as a great and majestic King.  The people will restore the road for God’s arrival, as God will restore his people.   Once again the Glory of the Lord will be in the temple, and the people will know God’s presence.   It is a level of joy only known to people who have suffered great losses and held against their will.

Purification was historically a big issue for the Jews. Ritual bathing was required after breaking any of a long list of laws before one could worship God again.   In a land of deserts and limited access to water, washing took on a significance that is unfamiliar to us.  Jewish tradition has it that Adam stood in the Jordan River for 40 days after he ate the fruit which was forbidden.  The prophet Elisha had Naaman wash 7 times in the Jordan River to heal his leprosy.  Traditionally, any one converting to the Jewish faith must do ritualized bathing in water.  This constitutes a rebirth, and brings purity “like that of a child just born”.  Sound familiar?  The Essenes (the Desert Fathers), of all people, were baptized each morning!

So Mark is using Isaiah, the Prophet of all Prophets, to announce that Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, is coming to restore his people. It is obvious that John is the voice crying out, literally, in the desert.  Mark knows that it has been some 300 years since Israel has had a prophet of God in their midst.  John the Baptist looks and talks and preaches like an old-time prophet.  John presses the people to repent of their sins and be right with God.  Instead of preparing the road for the king, John was preparing the people’s hearts for the King. The Psalmist says it with poetic grace: Justice (John) shall walk before (the Lord), and prepare the way of his steps.

What was the attraction to John? It wasn’t the wardrobe. I think that we all are looking for second chances.  We all, to some degree, carry around a burden of regrets for some of the choices we have make and the selfish acts we commit.  We all have a little part of us that relates to the Israelites who thought they were smarter than God and ended up being homeless captives in Babylon.  We find John in a scene stripped of the liturgical niceties; just a man in camel skins, in the barren land, next to a muddy river, providing what the people needed.  Their religious leaders at the Temple were too busy with finances and politics.  So the people from the countryside and people from the city of Jerusalem were streaming out to John.  No vestments, no holy orders, no stained glass windows, nothing but raw confrontation of sinfulness and the urgent desire for forgiveness and inner peace.

But John’s purpose in life was not to only address the people’s thirst for reconciliation. He was to create anticipation, a longing for more.  He was to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.    The road that John was preparing was for One mightier and holier than John, One who would baptize with, not water, but the Holy Spirit.  You see, people were confused about the messiah- would he be a fierce warrior who would battle the Romans, or a savior, who would bring salvation and peace?  The Messiah had been promised in Genesis; people despaired he would never come. Psalm 90 answers, “A thousand years in (God’s) eyes are merely a yesterday.”  Our 2nd reading from the 2nd letter of Peter, echoes that, saying, “Do not ignore this one fact…that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years..”  But this letter does not leave the issue there.  It goes on with, “…what sort of persons should you be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…”

And that is where the road of Advent leads us: to ask the questions of “what sort of persons we ought to be,” and how do we “prepare the road” for the Lord? How do we wash away the old presumptions and excuses, realize our failings, open our hearts for the Lord’s arrival?  How do we move toward holiness and hasten the coming of God?  I think sometimes those teeny tiny energy-efficient lights we have on our Christmas trees are a symbol of how much light we really want to have shine in the darker places of our lives.  But we have already been baptized with the Holy Spirit, so we pray, “O, Come Lord, O, Come Jesus, O, Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”