‘Thoughts and Prayers’

Proverbs 9: 1-6; Eph 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58

“Watch carefully how to live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not continue in ignorance (and I’d add, arrogance), but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.”  Ephesians 5: 15-17

You know, I didn’t know how I was going to preach today.  Quite honestly, I didn’t know who would show up.  Once again this Church gave us a thousand reasons to jump ship again. If you’ve been on the fence, well, good-bye, gone goes another generation. Yet, here we are, and maybe those of us who are here recognize that there’s more to all of this than the institution.  Maybe we understand, as we sang today, that our firm foundation is in something, or for that matter, someone else, in God, in Christ crucified, in the heart of Jesus.  You know I’m a Scranton guy so it’s been a little more personal.  The bishop who accepted me into formation was listed.  Heck, the bishop that ordained me, on the list for covering up and concealing and for what and to protect what.

Yet, what do we get, thoughts and prayers.  Our hearts go out to victims.  Thoughts and prayers?  Where have we heard that before.  Oh yeah, politicians every time there’s a tragedy.  Empty words.  Politicians who get caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  Politicians who are sorry for getting caught more than for what they had done.  Politicians who’d rather use prayer to push something away and to continue to live in denial that something needs to change.  Thought and prayers.  All the while that abuse of power continues to persist.  Sure there’s been a lot that has been put in place since 2002 but it hasn’t dealt with the heart of these issues and the abuse of power.  What do you end up with?  Just as Paul says, ignorance and arrogance on our part, failing people along the way.

I’ve been criticized over the years for not speaking on moral issues like this and here’s why.  Our foundation is not in morality nor is it in dogma. For that matter, our morality has been hijacked by politicians that it’s nearly impossible anyway without become one of them. Our foundation is in relationship with God, with Christ crucified, with the heart of Jesus.  Now you’re going to hear people say that the Church will carry on, and that’s true, it’s been through many scandals and crises in its history.  But like all the rest it still remains true that when it arises, it arises for the fact that the institution disconnects from its heart.  It disconnects from the heart of Jesus and ignorance and arrogance continue to persist.  I don’t preach it because I know full well it’s not our foundation and I can never live up to it.  None of us can!  Ever!  And if you want to preach high and almighty, do as I say and not as I do, you’re bound to fall and fall hard.  And for what?  To sacrifice one’s soul and one’s heart?  To protect what?  Quite frankly, it needs to fall a part just as much as our political system does.  They no longer serve the people but rather power.  Our firm foundation is in relationship with God, in Christ crucified, in the heart of Jesus that is always calling us to come home, to seek mercy, forgiveness, and love.  When we lose that, well, this is what we end up with, more of the same, ignorance and arrogance.  Thoughts and prayers.  It’s not enough.

The readings all touch upon it.  Today from the Book of Proverbs, Solomon compares lady wisdom with fools.  Now lady wisdom, as we heard today, has a sense of openness.  There’s freedom.  Lady wisdom is welcoming of all to the table and does not exclude or exude force upon people.  Lady wisdom finds power within that relationship with God.  Now we didn’t continue the reading today, but if you read on Solomon will compare that with following a fool.  Don’t follow a fool Solomon says.  A fool knows nothing and yet is enticing.  A fool looks to take advantage of one who is naïve and lacks sense.  A fool is unstable and senseless, all about themselves.  A fool cares only about self-interest, that same power that is abused.  There’s a difference.  Lady wisdom is more than just thoughts and prayers.  Lady wisdom understands the one who’s been abused and taken advantage of, welcoming all to the table, especially those who recognize that need.

Jesus personifies Lady wisdom as we’ve been hearing in the sixth chapter of John the past month.  You know, the one thing that gives hope is that it is often the crowd that begins to understand who this Jesus is.  They may not necessarily know what the words mean.  They may not necessarily know what he’s all about, but they do know there’s something different about him than who he’s often compared, to the Pharisees of his day.  They recognize he’s feeding them with something that is nourishing rather than the stones of the Pharisees.  It’s the Pharisees that want to fight Jesus because he becomes a threat to their power, ironically.  He threatens their control over the people who are also, do as I say, not as I do, holding people to a standard that no one is capable of!  Of course, it will lead to his death.  He becomes the scapegoat simply for gravitating to the poor, the abused, the disadvantaged.  Even he recognizes that it’s impossible for the heart of a Pharisee to be converted in their own ignorance and arrogance.

And it’s no different today.  What do we do, and this you will see as well because I’ve already seen it out there?  We scapegoat.  Well, if we get rid of this one it’ll take care of the problem.  If we get rid of gay people all will be well.  If we dump Vatican II it’ll fix everything.  If we get rid of whomever lacks the purity somehow it’ll make it all right.  Wrong.  That’s denial.  That’s trying to live with a 1950 Church in the year 2018.  We must return to the foundation.  Without a foundation we fall.  When the storms arise, and they always arise, we run.  Honestly, running is easy.  It’s much harder to weather a storm.  It’s much easier to blame.  It’s much easier to live in denial and offer our thoughts and prayers than to change.

Now, there’s only so much I can do as an insider in this institution, and I’m well aware of that.  However, it doesn’t mean I stop fighting.  I will continue to fight, especially for the younger priests who are going to have to live with this ongoing mess.  However, the real power is with you.  It’s with you.  What do the Pharisees as well as any institution or political system want you to believe, that you’re powerless.  You’re not.  You have the power to force institutions to change, including this one.  You have the power to push institutions to move beyond denial, beyond thoughts and prayers.  If you’re here today you already know where and who the foundation is, the one who continues to feed us with life-giving bread rather than stones of shame and guilt.  It’s all of you that need to push us forward.

And so we pray for God’s grace this day for more than thoughts and prayers.  We pray for God’s grace to return to the foundation that, never, no never, forsakes, as the hymn goes.  We pray for this Church and all of us to return to the heart of Jesus in these moments.  As I said, it’s too easy to leave and run.  The disciples did it.  Heck, we’ll hear it in John’s gospel shortly as well because it’s too hard.  We’re more than an institution when we put relationship first and allow all else to flow from the source.  We’ve had enough thoughts and prayers.  We’ve certainly had enough ignorance and arrogance.  We pray that we take Lady Wisdom’s advice to us today, to open the doors, to be vulnerable in the face of adversity, to lay aside old ways of thinking, and to personify Wisdom in the heart of Jesus.  It is this relationship with God, with Christ crucified, with the heart of Jesus that will change us and move us forward while returning us to what matters most.

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Napping for Answers

I Kings 19: 4-8; John 6: 41-51

I think Elijah has the right idea.  Go find yourself a tree and take a nap.  You can’t beat it.  Unfortunately, even in his sleep he can’t seem to outrun life nor God, being nagged to eat for the journey.  I suppose it can seem rather extreme, praying for death and all.  He’s got a lot going on in his life that he isn’t able to make sense out of in the moment.  Maybe we wouldn’t go to that extent, but I bet we can all relate to him.  Most of us knows what it’s like to be pushed to wits end where we just can’t take anymore, where life seems overwhelming and we can’t possibly take anymore and so we do the same thing, we run away.  We all have our ways of running away.  Yet, like him, life, God, has a way of catching up with us even in those moments of escape.  The very fact that he ends up at a broom tree reminds us that God still has a hand.  It’s one of the few green trees in the desert because of its deep roots, pointing Elijah in the direction of life.  Elijah may not necessarily be having a crisis of faith but he’s certainly having a crisis of vocation, of meaning, of what his purpose is and this call of his in relation to God as prophet.  A nap under a tree seems inviting with all that going on.

Elijah finds himself under attack and on the run from the King and the King’s wife, Jezebel.  She wants him dead for him exposing all the false gods of their time.  Now it’s easy for us to say that we have no such gods in our lives but we’d be lying to ourselves.  They’re often associated with control, fear, boxing in, power as a means to make ourselves feel safe and secure.  They often make us comfortable because they’ve been faithful, but they’re not God.  So here’s Elijah bringing all of this to awareness and then finds himself, by the people who appear to have the most to lose, wanting him dead.  Any one of us would run at that point.  Here’s one of the unique things about Elijah’s story, though.  So many of the others we encounter in Scripture seem to be thrust back into what they’re running from, like Jonah, spit onto shore.  That’s not what happens to Elijah.  He isn’t told to go back and confront Jezebel.  Rather, this God specifically gives Elijah the freedom to wander and to get lost in order that he may be found.  He will wander for forty days and nights we hear today in order to be found.  It is the storied history of Israel of themselves wandering in the desert in order to be found, faithful God every step of the way.

We are probably most familiar with the wandering that will take Elijah to the place where he will finally encounter this mysterious God.  God doesn’t come in the earthquake or anything drastic, but rather in the quiet whisper in Elijah’s heart.  All the angst that he continues to encounter, ironically often in his moments of sleep as we hear today, Elijah finally begins to grow more deeply into the vocation in which God calls him and yet wouldn’t have unfolded for him if he didn’t first have that immediate confrontation with death, leading to him fleeing to the desert, and growing into that freedom given by God to become lost and to wander in order to be found.  We can all relate in those moments of our own lives.  We’ll either cling to what was or we’ll allow ourselves to learn to trust what we cannot hear and yet speaks in the gentleness of our own hearts.

The same crisis is unfolding with the followers of Jesus in today’s gospel from John.  We’re now halfway through the Bread of Life discourse and we now see signs of cracks happening in not just the Pharisees, who we have become accustomed to antagonizing Jesus, but his very followers.  Like Elijah they’re confronted with who this God is and what Jesus is revealing about that God and their inability to grasp it all.  Like Elijah in those waning moments, they don’t want to listen.  They don’t want to hear the truth and they don’t have the capability to listen to what he is saying about this God.  Like Jezebel, they have in their minds who God is and what that all means, neatly packaged, safe and secure, and now all of a sudden, things are changing and scales are falling from their eyes and hearts.  The very fact that they can’t even repeat what it was that Jesus says, changing the words, gives us proof that they don’t want to listen.  In some ways the story ends sadly as the weeks go on because they just can’t handle the truth.  Many will be led to a crisis of faith, vocation, meaning, however you want to describe it.  Like the God that Elijah encounters, though, they too will be given that same freedom to wander and to allow themselves to become lost in order to be found.  There will be that period of wandering in the desert themselves where they will learn to surrender all that they have clung to in order to experience God in a new way, a deeper way, and once again find meaning in their call as followers.

If there is one thing we can say for sure it’s that there are many that find themselves lost and wandering these days.  There are many seemingly wanting to flee life because they find themselves at wits end.  We quickly want to try to find answers and create new boxes to neatly package it all up for ourselves, but that’s not faith.  More often than not we’re led to crises ourselves, wandering and lost in order to be found.  It may be forty days and forty nights, but all along, as with Elijah, God’s hand is there leading us to the broom tree, to the quiet whisper, and ultimately to that place of peace with ourselves and what it is that gives us meaning, nourished through this great mystery we call faith.  It’s why we return to this table weekly to be fed and nourished for the journey is long and tiresome.  We pray, these days, for the grace to embrace the freedom that God gave to Elijah and the followers of Jesus to become lost and to wander.  None of us has all the answers, we can never really be sure, we can cling to our institutionalized gods all we want, but none of it will ever move us to that place of freedom to grow more deeply into our own call.  Becoming lost and finding ourselves wandering is sometimes the greatest gift that can be given to us because we learn what really matters.  It’s only then that we allow ourselves to be found by this God who has already been there every step of the way, leading us to freedom and to greater depths of love and mystery.

A Vulnerable Mission

Amos 7: 12-15; Mark 6: 7-13

I don’t know what Jesus is talking about today.  When I travel anywhere I tend to overpack!  So I was at a conference this past week at a retreat house right on a beach in Jersey.  Now there was no swimming in that spot so it was quite nice and quiet, but I couldn’t help and watch everyone else doing what they do on the beach.  If you’ve been to the beach you probably have noticed, or have been the one, who appears to bring everything with them when they come to the beach even to the point where they can barely carry it all.  It’s crazy.  It looks as if they’re moving in despite knowing that they’re going to have to haul it back in a few hours.  I also, at times, feel like I grew up in antiquity watching them.  I saw a woman with her two daughters.  The two are running while the woman is practically hunched over carrying stuff.  I refrained from saying anything but I couldn’t understand why the kids weren’t carrying it!  If we couldn’t carry it, it didn’t get to the beach!  Not a good way to learn to live without.  We carry a lot of baggage.  If it’s true that our environment says something about our interior landscape then there are many that are carrying serious baggage.

Maybe Jesus has a point then about taking very little.  You know, for a gospel that doesn’t give a lot of specifics, Mark is pretty specific on this point.  You notice there’s not much about what they are to do but it’s very specific about what they should take and not take.  Sure, carrying a lot of stuff, like at the beach, becomes exhausting after awhile, but there are deeper reasons for sending the disciples out in such a fashion.  All that they know about Jesus up to this point is that his encounters have been with the most vulnerable.  He encounters the poor, the sick, those who have been shunned from society and outcasts for one reason or another.  They’re the people that have nothing to lose and pretty much have nothing, including no status in the life of the community.  An encounter with the most vulnerable needs to be met with a great deal of vulnerability and trust as well.  It’s the deeper reason to send them with nothing. 

Yeah, they’re pretty simple guys, simple fishermen themselves.  Although they may not be carrying much physical baggage, they still carry with them ways to avoid the most vulnerable, building walls around themselves to somehow prevent getting hurt, avoid rejection.  It becomes easy to hide behind status, role, career, our belongings, all of which prevents the authentic encounter with the vulnerable one.  As the disciples are sent out two by two today, they aren’t being sent to fix people’s problems or anything like that, but in the process of encountering the vulnerable they also become more aware of themselves.  They become aware of their own demons that act as baggage in their interior life.  It’s how they begin to become aware of it around them and to not give into the fear that they often invoke.  Will they always get it right?  Far from it.  Will they be perfect at it?  Absolutely not.  They’re not Jesus nor are they supposed to.  Will they face rejection like the prophets?  Absolutely, but that too will become a point of meeting and encountering the vulnerable and learning to trust over and over again.

The same is true for Amos in today’s first reading.  Again, a rather simple man.  He’s someone that would prefer to go back to his own way of life of shepherding.  Things seemed much easier for him as that and quite frankly doesn’t want much to do with God or being this prophetic voice.  He learns, though, today, about shaking the dust off of his feet or shaking out the sand and moving on.  Amaziah wants nothing to do with him or his message of God.  Like most of the prophets, the message often sounds quite harsh to the powers that be because they try to maintain the status quo.  They prefer to invoke fear in the people but often at the hands of the most vulnerable.  The poor become forgotten and take the brunt of what is done.  The women and children, the refugees, people fleeing the violence that is often sparked at the hands of the political authorities of their day.  Amos, as he learns of himself as well, learns the difference of when that word falls on deaf ears and moves on.  It doesn’t stop him from being the prophetic voice.  Some are just unable to hear and receive the message.  Just as at times we aren’t.  There are times when people try to reach us and we’re unable to hear and see because we trust more heavily on our own baggage rather than being open to the possibility of God.  Jesus has every reason to send them out today with very little in order not to create a barrier, separating them from the most vulnerable and learning to trust that God will give them all they need.  When it’s not being heard, they shake off the dust and carry on.

We tend to carry a lot with us.  We have all learned ways to avoid pain, suffering, being rejected, but in doing so we close ourselves off to love.  We build walls to separate ourselves rather than allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.  These readings challenge us in our own lives to be aware of what it is we use in our lives that acts as that barrier.  There are times where we need to literally go to the most vulnerable, whether the poorest of the poor on the street or even someone suffering in pain or loneliness in the home next to us.  When we go with a sense of openness and vulnerability, it does as the disciples do today, heals.  It heals not only the other but our own hearts and souls.  The most authentic encounters we can have are when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable before the other and the Other.  It’s too easy to close ourselves off but today Jesus invites us on a different path and a different encounter, one of great vulnerability, opening ourselves not only to the possibility of hurt, but more importantly a great deal of healing, love, and compassion for others and ourselves.

Radical Compassion

Ezekiel 2: 2-5; II Cor 12: 7-10; Mark 6: 1-6

If you didn’t know, the Dali Lama celebrated his 83rd birthday this past week.  83 and still going strong, traveling around the globe.  He may be one the of the last larger than life wisdom figures out there these days and still one of the great prophetic voices going.  One of his consistent themes is compassion.  He says “compassion is the radicalism of our time”.  One, it seems illogical to the mind to have compassion and radical in the same sentence, which is the point.  Two, the fact that we as a human race have to be reminded of being compassionate says a lot about us, that we could forget something so simple.

Now, when he speaks of compassion he isn’t speaking as we often associate it.  We have a tendency to make it into a pity party of sorts for people who have less than us, have it worse off than us, and really a sense of inferiority.  That’s obviously not his point.  He takes it from a more literal sense of being moved with passion to do something in the face of injustice, suffering, hurt and pain.  He recognizes that there is no wall that separates us from the other, especially when it comes to injustice and suffering.  It’s what makes his message so prophetic even to this day, a gentle message of compassion and love, radical for our time.

When we think of the prophetic voices, though, we often think of fire and brimstone, going out and beating the message over Israel, as we often hear in the first reading throughout the year.  It’s as if they have to be the loudest voice heard and yet often gets drowned out by all the noise.  It’s what the political and religious leaders often did.  Fire and brimstone was a way of controlling the masses and invoking fear into the people they want to control.  It’s not until Ezekiel, in this case, comes to a greater understanding of his own humanity through the Word that he begins to find that prophetic voice within and more often than not, the quietest of the voices speaking from the depths of his soul.  It’s why it is so easily drowned out by all the noise and the false prophets of their time and ours. 

It certainly doesn’t mean that somehow Israel changed all its ways and everything was great.  Israel rarely changes despite being freed from slavery.  They begin to feel entitled in that way and become hard of heart and a rebellious people as he tells us today.  Like us, change is slow and happens one by one more than an entire nation.  You’d think that Israel, of all, would know and understand the power of the Word.  Ezekiel tells us today that it the very act of consuming the Word and being consumed by it when he can begin to be transformed by it and all that separates fall apart.  It’s the religious and political leaders that want the division, not the God who sets them free.  Yet, the noise gets to them.  The fear gets to them.  They gradually begin to give in and become hard of heart, obstinate, and unable to hear the prophetic voice.  It gets drowned out.  It’s not just them that are called to be the prophetic voice.  It’s all of us.  Everyone of us that comes to this font is baptized priest, prophet, and king.  We only grow in that when we, like Ezekiel, consume and become consumed by the Word, moving us to this radical compassion towards a hurting humanity.

Paul runs into the same obstacle.  He’s struggling with Corinth today as he often does because they too are becoming consumed by false prophets.  His voice and message seems to be falling on deaf ears.  They become convinced that they don’t need that message and over time they begin to exclude, separate, become us versus them, leave people out of the celebration of their Eucharist, and all the rest.  Paul struggles greatly with them because he’s aware of all that they can be and yet they give in so easily to the noise of their time.  Paul, like all the prophets, aware of their own humanity and consumed by the Word, find the quiet in their lives in order to allow that prophetic voice to grow within them.  It never seems to overtake all the noise, but one by one people are moved to that compassion where walls no longer separate and we can see the other as ourselves, the other as Christ.

As we hear in the gospel today it was no different for the Word made Flesh.  Jesus struggles upon returning home today where they too had become hardened and jaded.  All they could see and hear are their own expectations of who he is, which of course is less than he really is.  They get caught up in the chatter and the noise of their own making and the word gets lost.  They consume the noise rather than the Word.  The crazy thing is that Jesus wasn’t even doing anything magical or even spectacular.  He, as we often hear, is moved to compassion for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the one who has been pushed aside and considered outside the community.  They quickly take offense.  It pushes up against the noise and all that they had come to believe through the fire and brimstone, the voices yelling at them in their own time.

The readings challenge us this week to quiet ourselves from all the noise.  We have the noise coming from the media, the politicians, twitter, and all the rest claiming to be the one.  Yet, over and over they prove to be the false prophets, using that message for their own gain.  When we learn to quiet ourselves and turn off the noise of our time, the voice of God begins to break through, as we consume the Word the Word consumes us.  As with the great prophets, and the Dali Lama, we’re moved with compassion, literally moved with passion to do something, to act, to do what is right in the face of injustice, suffering, and hurt.  Otherwise, we continue to buy into what is being sold, leading us further astray, more divided, and hard of heart.  We pray for that quiet in our own lives and the reawakening of the prophetic voice within us, moving us to radical compassion.

Prepare to be Amazed

Isaiah 49: 1-6; Acts 13: 22-26; Luke 1: 57-66, 80

It’s good to take a break from the ordinary cycle of readings to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist.  Whether it’s his, Jesus’ or even in our own families, we know there’s something special about birth.  Babies, infants, kids, have a way of pulling us adults outside of ourselves and to free us, even if for a time, of our selfishness and self-centeredness.  They are utterly dependent upon us and totally defenseless.  They are a good reminder to us just how much we’re not in charge and, despite their size, how many bigger things there are that often get missed.  Yet, as a human family we still find ways to abuse, separate, take advantage of, and use children for our own gain because of who they are rather than being a message of hope, as it is with John the Baptist and Jesus, both of which are intertwined in this beginning of Luke’s Gospel.

Of course, though, on his birth we hear nothing from him, not even a whimper.  He is the one, though, that prepares the way as we hear in Advent, for literally the advent of something new.  There is a message of hope.  Quite possibly, though, he learns how to be the one that prepares the way through his parents who are a part of today’s Gospel, Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Like Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, they are advanced in years, beyond child-bearing, and literally defined by Luke as being barren.  There’s no chance of life.  Yet, in their own way as Luke tells us, they have prepared for this moment.  There was still a sense of receptivity that God can still do great things in their lives, so both Elizabeth and Mary stand as model in that sense.

It’s Zechariah, though that has his own way of preparing for this moment of hope.  His story mirrors that of Mary in some ways when the message is delivered that they are about to give birth.  Mary, as we know, responds with a great sense of openness, freedom, and yet a sense of wonder as to how something like this is possible.  Zechariah, on the other hand, still comes with a sense of wonder, but like a good man, his wonder has more to do with how he’s going to do this.  His wonder is much more rooted in fear.  He has yet to be pulled out of himself and remains somewhat closed to the gift being given and so is silenced for nine months.  That, quite possibly, was God’s real gift to Elizabeth.  However, like any baby, when that child enters the world and Zechariah looks at him for the first time, things begin to change.  The one who prepares with fear and is silenced, now comes with a sense of freedom in dismantling his own lineage in naming the child John.  John will not be bound by that same history and inaugurates the new day.  In the end, Elizabeth and Zechariah teach their own son how to prepare by how they prepared for that same message of God breaking into their lives.  All John can do as his life proceeds is to point the way.

With the birth of a child our hearts expand.  They give us a sense of hope and wonder.  They allow us to be free to receive and to give this unconditional love.  Of course, it’s Israel’s own struggle and the great prophets that come before John try to lead Israel to that same promise, reminding them too that there are bigger things than themselves.  Israel makes the same mistake we continue to make to this day by getting caught up in ourselves, getting stuck in our own selfishness and self-centeredness.  The largeness of one’s heart can pretty much be determined by how they respond to children.  The smaller our hearts, the more prone to using them for our own advantage.  We have certainly seen that in the history of the world and continue to do so and certainly in our own country.  It’s the message that is conveyed in the gospels over and over again, about children, women, the vulnerable, the poor, all of which, for Jesus and John, pulled people out of themselves and gave the freedom to be receptive to the working of God, to mystery, to the newness of life.  It’s how Isaiah can proclaim today that the message goes to the ends of the earth.  When the heart begins to expand and we move outside ourselves, the message becomes universal.  That’s the working of God in the life of Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah, but also in our lives to this day.

Our tendency is to become small and closed off.  We have no need for anything new, for wonder, for mystery, but that cuts us off from the Creator and Giver of life.  We don’t just celebrate the birth of the Baptist, we celebrate what God continues to do in our lives, despite our fear, our trepidation, our loss of wonder.  John reminds us that we too need to prepare for what great works God wants to do in and through us.  Maybe we’re just Zechariah and we just need to be silenced or find silence for some time, creating space and wonder.  Maybe we find ourselves like Elizabeth, barren in our own way.  They remind us that miracles still happen but we must be prepared and certainly receptive to the life being given.  As we celebrate this day with solemnity on the birth of John the Baptist, we pray with the family of Abraham for a greater sense of openness in our own lives and that like these characters, we may be used in similar ways to give birth to something new, something in our lives that, all we can do, is point the way to the One who continues to do great things.

 

Walking With & By Faith

Ezekiel 17: 22-24; II Cor 5: 6-10; Mark 4: 26-34

Well, it’s good to know that after some 2000 years of history Saint Paul still manages to find his way into public debate as we heard this past week when it comes to families being separated at the border.  He, probably more than anyone else in Scripture, is the most misinterpreted and abused writer in the Bible.  His writings have a way of being weaponized in order to defend things that aren’t intended, all in the name of God.

Paul, though, writes much more from a mystical point of view following his conversion, which makes him so misunderstood.  He, maybe only second to John, have the ability to do what many of the other writers cannot, that being able to stand in the tension.  Paul understands the reality of his own day and the many struggles that are faced, injustices and abuses, but he always keeps an eye on the prize.  He doesn’t see it as either or but rather sees both as long as we live on this earth and does everything try to stand in that place of tension because he understands the consequences when you don’t.

Here’s a guy, writing to Corinth today, who comes to a place where he understands the necessity of the law, body, ego, how every you want to describe it, but also love.  Paul lived a life separated from love and made the law into his own god.  It’s what made him so callous and just a ruthless leader, leading to the murder of early Christians and charging others with murdering them.  He was ruthless because there was no heart.  It’s not that Paul then miraculous abandons the law.  Again, he understand the value and it’s necessity while here but it must be held in tension with the heart, with love, otherwise the leaders to become ruthless.  In the end, he knows, that love wins out because that’s the prize he keeps his eye on and that all else will pass away.  We are, for Paul, all citizens in exile seeking shelter, seeking a home.  We, as a country, can learn something much deeper from Paul in the way we live our lives.  We want to say we’re a country of laws, and it is necessary; but when it becomes a god in and of itself, we too become ruthless towards people.  It’s part of our history and continues to be a part of our history to this day.  There are tremendous implications when we separate from the heart, from love, from God.  Paul stands in that tension and we must as well.  The same is true without the law.  We stand for nothing and have no principle.  Paul reminds his community that both are necessary.  He speaks to the elites of his own day and to ours.  They tried to exclude the poor and those deemed less worthy or a threat to their way of life.  We’re told so well today, walk by faith and not by sight.

It’s the underlying message of the gospel today as well as the farmer, in a nonsensical kind of way, tosses seeds everywhere, which to the naked eye seems wasteful.  However, that’s not necessarily the point.  The farmer knows better than anyone about what happens in places that cannot be seen with the eye.  Now I’m not talking about the corporate farmers of our day.  Rather, these guys knew the land better than anything.  They kept their ear to the ground and learned to have utter trust and faith.  Once the seeds fall into the darkened earth it’s beyond the control of the farmer.  As a matter of fact, if the farmer tries to control it we know the result.  There’s no produce in order for him and his family to live.  He does to the earth that which Paul did to the people.  We become even ruthless towards the earth, thinking it’s our and we can control it.  Yet, deep down lies the heart of God, beating in the depths of the darkness making something happen that just can’t be seen.  The farmer knows it takes trust, it takes a great deal of faith, and a great deal of patience when you walk through the darkness of the earth.  Yet, it’s where God does God’s best work.  To the eye it seems foolish what the farmer does.  To the eye it seems as if we should be able to control this the way we want.  To the eye we become disconnected from our heart and without the heart there is no love and certainly no God.

Paul probably consistently turns over in his grave.  It’s not only politicians, but also religious leaders, who take things out of context, use scripture as a weapon, and allow politics to define faith and God rather than allowing just the opposite.  That’s the brilliance of Paul.  He doesn’t avoid the realities of his own time.  He understands the injustices, the abuses, and everything else because that was his life!  He knows it and lived it.  Now, though, he stands in that tension of this life while waiting the unfolding of the kingdom, the tension of law and love, the tension of mind and heart because he knows the implications when not.  Paul sees as God sees and helps to redefine what is in that context all while trusting what cannot be seen.  For Paul, you have no other choice but to walk through the darkened earth and all that comes with it, the chaos, the fear, the anxiety, because it’s only in the unknown where the farmer learns to trust and to have faith, even the size of a mustard seed.

We pray not only for ourselves but for our country and world that like Paul, we reconnect with our heart, with love, with God, to soften where we have become callous and ruthless towards others while not losing what it is we believe and defines us.  Like Paul, we need to learn to live in that place of tension and to trust and have patience that so many that have gone before us, God will see us through and new life will grow from the darkness and the cedar will once again bloom.  The more we separate, exclude, fear, live in anxiety, and begin to believe that it’s about only what we see with our eyes, we literally lose sight of what is most important, what we cannot see and yet always at work deep within us for we are called, as Paul tells Corinth, to walk by faith and not by sight.  We are called to trust what we cannot see and like the farmer, keep our hearts and ears close to the ground for when the Lord has spoken, so will the Lord do.  We pray for the grace to walk by faith and not by sight, even if it means walking in the darkest of days.

Family Lies

Genesis 3: 9-15; 2Cor 4: 13–5: 1; Mark 3: 20-35

When we hear this gospel and the question of family, it’s important to remember that we’re not reading Matthew or Luke where we hear the narratives of the Holy Family that we have become accustomed to during the Christmas season.  In Mark, who we hear from this weekend, they are nonexistent and so when family is spoken of today it’s a much larger context, we can define them as the human family that sets out with the accusation of him “being out of his mind”.  That said, when it comes to family, it’s not so much as to whether there is dysfunction it’s a matter of the degree of dysfunction within the human family.  Every family has secrets and things they don’t talk about.  No family even wants to give the perception that they are far from perfect all while believing “out there” someone has it better than ourselves, creating a sense of shame and guilt that runs deep where no one can ever speak of the elephant in the room.

We also know, from the nuclear family, that it’s often an outsider who reveals our own insanity to us.  When someone brings home a boyfriend, girlfriend, or just anyone who didn’t grow up within that family, they see things differently.  Now our immediate reaction is to typically judge that person and cast them aside as being “out of his mind” but that’s our own way of avoiding the dysfunction.  What we can do, though, is allow these things to surface and not to judge them or others but rather to allow them to be healed and redeemed.  That’s what God desires of and for the human family.  We can take that a step further also to this city or certainly as a country.  We live in denial of our own history so often.  We prefer not to look at it and avoid it all while the rest of the world already knows.  It’s why we feel so threatened by outsiders.  They have a way of revealing what we don’t like about ourselves and we’ll do anything to destroy, by word or action.  We continue to see it today with families being torn apart, refugees being shunned, anyone that is seen as a threat to our own way of life is disposable.

Jesus, though, becomes the archetypal outsider, living on the edge of the inside.  How quickly people, those in power in particular, feel threatened by his very existence.  Today, it’s the human family.  It’s a very simple question that is asked as to “who is my brother and mother”.  We can come up with obvious answers to those questions but it seems to get clouded by Jesus.  They want to immediately react and say he’s crazy, in the same way we do with people who do heinous acts, to somehow save them from themselves.  But Jesus isn’t simply referring to his immediate family as I said.  He becomes a perceived threat to the way of life for the human family.  So their response to him is to label him crazy.  They don’t want to associate with him or have any parts of him in that sense.  As soon as he begins to threaten the status quo of their lives things are turned upside down.  The very people who thought they were insiders now find themselves on the outside looking in because they don’t feel the need for redemption and refuse to look at their own sin.  It’s a fascinating play on words and turning things upside down, allowing all to surface in order to be redeemed through a God how continues to look out at humanity with great love.

It takes us to one of the most famous passages of Genesis with Adam and Eve doing what they do in the Garden.  They buy into the big lie just as we do.  They are convinced, rather easily, that if they eat from that particular tree in the middle of the garden they can be God.  There would no longer need to God and they can become self-sufficient, just as we often try.  There is, in some sense from God today a level of disappointment with the human family for what they had done and the lie they so easily believed.  God continues to look lovingly upon them as their own sin surfaces to be redeemed and reconciled.  Whereas the human family wants to quickly label God as “out of his mind” God in turn looks lovingly.  It’s not until they realize that they have become lost that they can be sought out and found by Love.  It’s not about becoming God.  Rather, it’s about seeing as God sees and to look at a hurting human family in that same way, in need of love, forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation. 

It’s Paul’s continuous point to the people of Corinth as well, whom we hear from in the second reading.  He reminds them that we have “the same spirit of faith” and that as a community which also had become reliant upon itself and self-sufficient, that it was still God who was working in and through them.  They community was becoming its own judge and determining who was in and who was out, excluding people from the table, mistreating others, and simply seeing with their own eyes rather than the eyes of God.  Paul, of course, knows this better than anyone.  He was the one who judged and deemed who was in and out until his own conversion experience.  Paul had to first find himself lost in order to be found by this God who loved and redeemed him for his own sin, sin which we’d find hard to forgive at times.  Yet, that same God who looked lovingly upon Adam and Eve looked upon Paul and his vision had been restored and he began to look at the human family in a very different way.  Paul sought a more just society, especially for those who were excluded.  Like Jesus, he learned to live on the edge of the inside and never forgetting what it’s like to be the outsider.

The human family can be quite dysfunctional; and is quite often.  It should not surprise us that our government is the same as family and also the Church.  When the human family is involved there will always be problems.  The question is do we live in denial of our own storied history or do we allow it to surface with purpose and meaning, revealing the great lies that we become attached to in order to be redeemed and reconciled, leading to a more just society.  The ones who gather around Jesus in today’s gospel always has space for new faces.  There are no walls, no divisions, nothing that separates, otherwise it’s not God.  We put ourselves on the outside looking in when we make the mistake from the Garden, of thinking we know as God knows, of thinking we can be the judge.  It becomes easier to blame and be victims rather than allow ourselves to be changed when our own sin surfaces.  The Good News, as it always is, just as in the beginning, God still looks lovingly upon us, awaiting our own desire in our lostness to be found.