Then Come, Follow Me

These words have been with me the past few days in this journey of faith and understanding. Whenever they appear in the Gospels, they are typically preceded by some form of surrender and “letting go” which often does not mean a hill of beans to the disciples until it means everything. The most obvious is always what they can see with their eyes, of giving up possessions, wealth, and all the rest that is demanded of them, but it isn’t until they encounter utter darkness that it begins to mean something all-together different. It changes not only how they see themselves but the very God that calls them. Maybe it’s why we so often avoid the biggest leaps in our lives, knowing that what is demanded of us may be the very life we have grown to embrace over our lifespan, that has given us some form of secure identity in which to cling.

Let’s be real. It’s never easy to give up anything. We can easily convince ourselves in some kind of rational fashion that we can’t live without certain things or people because of some form of attachment that has grown over our way of relating to them. We create for ourselves, a form of dependence, rather than the interdependence that is demanded of us through our way of relating to God and mystery. Once it moves to a point of clinging or dependence, we begin to lose sight of the gift that lies before us, within us, and even beyond us. We create for ourselves our own gods that bring us comfort, certainty, and some form of security that we as humans look for, especially when it feels as if everything else around us is falling away and the world that we had once known ceases to exist.

For the disciples, and I’d say for most of us, it’s our way of thinking, our way of seeing the world, and the very illusions, all of which are too small for us, that become our greatest obstacles and even leads to a deep loneliness with and within ourselves because we live our lives separate from our truest selves, the self in which God created us to be. In an act of rebellion and violence against our truest selves, we choose paths and make choices in life rather than allowing the path to be revealed to and within us which demands way too much trust, faith, and patience that we often just don’t have time for in our lives and in the fast-paced world in which we live. This rebellion, violence, and fighting often manifests itself in the world, but at its core, it’s a fight against ourselves, against the darkness which we avoid within ourselves but see quite clearly in the systems, structures, institutions, and world in which we live. It’s not until we begin to become aware of the fight against when we realize we’re often fighting the wrong battle. It’s not that anything of the world need not change; our systems have become dysfunctional and self-serving. It by no way means, though, that the change first must begin with me, with us.

This is where the rubber meets the road for the disciples and us, when we become aware of what needs to change in our lives, what it is we have been fighting within ourselves, and to learn to love in a more radical way, even the areas in which we most fight and cling. When the disciples finally face that utter darkness, the novelty of what it is they see with their eyes, in which they need to surrender, becomes practically inconsequential to the greater battle which lies within and before them. The layers of life which must be shed, often rooted in fear, becomes the stumbling stone of their lives and our lives if we are to live from that truest place. Rather than identifying with the lifestyle in which they want to fit and what will define them, they choose, in freedom, to step out into the darkness of a life unknown, identified with the deepest sense of mystery. Then come, follow me.

It would be great if the gospel ended for the disciples and us when it is mere possessions that they are asked to give up. It would also be great if it ended, as it appears with our eyes to end, as simply gazing at the Cross and awaiting a day of resurrection. Following me, though, if we follow through with the message, isn’t simply about Jesus doing something for us. It’s only a half-truth. The other half is the demand we avoid and seemingly fail to see out of fear of what is being asked. Unfortunately, it’s what creates the co-dependent systems we find ourselves all too often operating within. The other half demands something of us and yet it feels like everything in those very moments. God can surely lead us to the cross just as Jesus does his disciples. But following doesn’t end at a gaze. Rather, following demands a humiliation we’d rather not encounter, a humiliation that leads straight through the Cross, hanging naked and exposed just as it does for Jesus.

The Mystery that culminates in Holy Week and the continuous call to follow is not a play in which we stand as bystanders, looking on and giving praise for a job well done come the Resurrection. If it is, we’ve missed the point of being true to ourselves and to the very God that has created. This is the violence and rebellion we do against ourselves. The journey of Jesus is our journey as well, not only the truth and the life, but also the way. When we allow ourselves to enter into the drama and the utter darkness, the humiliation of coming out of a life, a thinking, an illusion once lived and clung to only then can the mystery we celebrate and live begin to make sense in a deeper way. Like the disciples, all else become inconsequential to the great surrender that is being asked and demanded in order to live the deeper truth of who we are, rather than settling for a gaze or the role of bystander or victim of a world thrust upon us. Instead, we learn to live from the inside out, and for that matter, upside down.

What precedes, then come, follow me, is consequential to the call of discipleship and the radical love in which God demands. What follows, though, is even more consequential. Giving up what we see with our eyes is often incomparable to what has been buried within our hearts, often avoided out of the very humiliation that now stands before us and the Cross. For the disciples, and us, to truly follow as Jesus demands, we must move beyond a gaze of the Cross to bearing it in our most challenging moments, knowing that He walks and carries it with us. It is the only path to the freedom our hearts desire and the only path to the radical love that the gospel demands for we are created in the very image to love and to be loved, finding our deepest value, worth, and truth, in love. Then, and only then, come, follow me.

A Weighted Return

“There is a desire within each of us,
in the deep center of ourselves
that we call our heart.
We were born with it,
it is never completely satisfied,
and it never dies.
We are often unaware of it,
but it is always awake.

It is the Human desire for Love.
Every person in this Earth yearns to love,
to be loved, to know love.
Our true identity, our reason for being
is to be found in this desire…” 
Gerald May  Living in Love

“A sense of balance within spaciousness remains within such people, like a window between infinity and the world of everyday experience. They are not only wiser and humbler because of their addictions; they are also more available. Through their spaciousness, they are continually invited homeward.” Gerald May  Addiction & Grace

I’ve never gone back.  At least not to that point.  It seemed as if there would never be a new normal.  Yet, when I began this journey, simultaneously, the spiritual journey as well, I weighed in at over 300 pounds.  It makes me cringe to even type that and admit it at this point in my life.  But I’ve also never gone back.  Sure, there have been many plateaus and stumbles over the years, but now I find myself in a place with more than a hundred of it gone, for good.  By the way, to get to this point has been now over twenty years.  Almost half my life.  Even that seems hard to believe.

I think, more than anything, it’s the reasons for doing it that change over time.  There are, of course, health risks that come with obesity, that are beyond my understanding at times.  Yet, like most, I didn’t like to be told I needed to lose the weight because of those reasons nor did it ever seem possible.  Over time, some of those voices did win out and it became one reason to do it, but it was never the best reason to keep it off nor does it deal with the reasons as to why food and eating were so pleasurable or how it was actually feeding me.  The thought of not having that defense mechanism, though, was too daunting.  If there was one way to protect myself it was to put up a physical barrier around myself, preventing not only me but others from coming in.  Health reasons are noble but not necessarily sustainable in the end.

Without a doubt, others, are a good motivating force and another reason for doing it, but like health, not always sustainable as a reason.  The problem with building that defense mechanism is that it necessarily does more harm to me than others.  It became a way to isolate myself, paradoxically, often from myself.  The desire to please, fit in, be liked and noticed, or even attracted to, was a strong driving force for some time.  Any desire around attraction and sexuality run deep.  They are, though, double-edged swords more often than not.  The more I wanted that to be my reason and my driving force only worked against me, wanting to eat all the more when that desire was not satisfied.  What appeared to be as May writes, a desire for love, was never going to be fulfilled in such a way.  It was looking for approval and acceptance from everyone but myself.  I was convinced, an addiction to my own thoughts, that that was the answer.  If I could only find love, in the way I thought, which was more about approval and acceptance, that would somehow solve the missing link in my life.  That was the answer to the deeper hunger that food satiated, leaving the longing to grow even deeper and an endless pit and dump for more food.  The defense mechanism, the exterior wall around myself, only grew sturdier.

That thinking did finally solidify for me and the defense mechanism, as a means for survival.  It will, though, always mark a significant turning point, both physically and spiritually for me, October 2003.  At that point I was six years into this journey and was at my best, up to that point.  I was at my lowest weight in lived memory, and in an instant, it all fell apart.  I quickly realized just how fragile this new-found way was for me when my life was almost cut short following a rafting accident.  Life became much more about survival and questions that had no answers.  It seemed that the only thing certain in my life was food, or least how I saw food.  Those moments, that turned into months, solidified in a way that I never thought possible, how I felt about myself, projecting it all onto God, questioning why I was plucked from the raging river.  It wasn’t as some would think, as to preferring death, but rather why I was pulled from “the belly of the whale”, as to what was being asked of me in this life and would I have it in me to do it!  It all seemed daunting where all I wanted to do in those moments was crawl into a closet and hide, fearing life all the more, eating as a way to protect myself, when in reality, I was simply feeding the voices of shame and guilt.  Yet, I never went back.  It became an endless cycle of eating and exercising to the point of exhaustion, simply to stay where I was, at least knowing on some level that going back was not the answer.  I knew that and know that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

If I could sum up the fifteen years since that moment, I’d say it was one of trying to crawl my way back to where I was and fighting all the way.  I firmly believed that was the answer.  If I could only return to the way life was before that day then all would be well.  I can’t even begin to explain how many times I thought that and said that, thinking somehow I could turn back the clock and erase all that had happened.  What I didn’t know, though, was just how much the “stinkin’ thinkin’” had held its grip on me.  As much as clawing and fighting were the name of the game, there was a gradual process unfolding through it all that was unlearning what had been learned.  It wasn’t, as May points out, the “spaciousness” of what was within that I feared the most, it was that feeling of being trapped, the weight of a raft, an other, atop me, drowning in my own feelings and desires and desiring the dark confines of that enclosed space to that spaciousness.  There wasn’t even space for myself, let alone anyone else, in what I would describe now as some of the roughest seas of my life, often feeling like I was gasping for air.  Fighting it all the way, of course.  Wanting to go back and yet knowing that wasn’t the answer. The weight I carried on the exterior very much symbolized the weight I carried within my own heart and soul, a grief unlike any other.

Food, though, like alcohol, drugs, internet, or whatever the pleasure, is merely a symptom of something much deeper.  That spaciousness only seemed to open up within me as I learned to write, page after page, writing to a God that I needed to listen.  I needed someone that could know my deepest thoughts and desires without judgment.  I had done enough of that myself and couldn’t handle a God doing the same.  I was sick, in my own way, and didn’t have the ability to go to where I needed to in life, to the deepest recesses of my heart and soul that held the key to unlocking the secrets to the symptoms that plagued my life.  There was nothing easy about any of it, quite frankly.  At times I feared sharing these writings with anyone; the shame and guilt of who I thought I was ran deep.  All I could imagine was myself hovering over me, stick in hand, ready to pounce.  Eating became the solution.  Eating became an escape from reality.  It allowed me to create my own reality, one that would protect me from the pains of the world.  Little did I know that it merely fed the deepest pains of my own life.  The desire, as May points out, is to love and to be loved.  I didn’t know what that meant, at least in my own life.  I hadn’t even learned to love myself.  How could I possibly love another?

Page after page and sentence after sentence, it seemed as if God was finally listening.  I was falling less and less into eating.  The more I became with the spaciousness as a new way of life, the more I had room “in the inn” for others who were hurting, and sometimes in similar ways. I learned to let go of unrealistic expectations, that somehow losing weight was the answer to all my problems.  I’ve had to tell myself that one many times over.  I could never quite understand what the deeper hunger was that was driving me to eat all the more.  It was a hunger that never seemed to be satisfied.  It was a hunger for connection.  It was a hunger for intimacy.  It was a hunger for love and to be loved.  It felt, at times, like a freefall into the unknown, and with each fall God seemed to hoist me up all the quicker or I became more aware of the fall each time.

I’m not convinced that it ever goes away.  I suppose that’s why addicts continue to claim that with each passing day.  Yeah, it gets easier.  I get that.  But as much as I don’t like to admit it, I also believe that the fall is the key over and over again.  It seems that with each fall it’s not into spaciousness at first.  Rather, it leads me to that trapped space, the confines of the closet, that becomes the passage way each and every time.  Every time I’m asked to give up a little more, surrender this way of thinking, because my thinking seems to be almost chameleon-like, changing with me and finding new ways to seduce me into believing that acceptance and approval are found beyond myself.  As much as I try to turn it off myself, I know it’s only in the moment of surrender, when I stop clawing and fighting, when something bigger than myself takes hold.

Losing weight, or dealing with any addictive behavior or thinking, is never easy, but it holds the key to the life we desire and the deeper hungers that remind us of our humanity.  At times I’ve said I’d rather be an alcoholic for at least I don’t need alcohol to live.  I’ve learned to live without a great deal in the process and with that I am ok.  All forms of addictive behavior or thinking was designed to protect us from hurt.  We all have some tendencies.  It’s manipulated in a consumer world convincing us that our deeper hungers, which are very much connected with our deepest hurts, can somehow be “taken care of” by something, whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, etc.  Although in the past month or so I have surpassed that point of October 2003, finally, there were mixed emotions through that process of crossing a threshold I had placed for fifteen years.

The very fact that I sit here writing this now has taken a lot of coaxing because it’s very personal to me.  It has been the loss of a great deal of who I thought I was over the years, and now, at times, as I step out of the confines, I’m left often wondering how to live my life.  It’s no longer the question of survival, but about what truly feeds the deepest hungers in my life and how does that love manifest itself in the life God has given me.  I’m left with trying to make sense out of what it all means in the days and months ahead.  There is, if I am honest with myself, a sense of grief and dying that is taking place within myself that I myself am not even able to yet comprehend or even put into words.  That’s not easy to admit.  Everyone wants to assume I feel better and have more energy, and on a physical level that is very true.  I have never been more active in my life.  However, the certainty has vanished and the defense mechanism is no longer standing in the way of the mystery of life and relationship.  I find myself looking for deeper meaning in my own life and in friendships.  It’s caused me to pause and question who is in my life and are they in the realm of that space.

I guess the bottom line is, like the rafting accident, I find myself asking questions that there aren’t really answers to, or not as quickly as I’d like.  But it’s different this time and the questions are open to possibility rather than shutting myself off, vulnerability rather than superficial, free rather than confining.  You see, at some point I finally began to see that it wasn’t about health and it wasn’t about others, as much as I’m still driven to think so at times.  Rather, it’s about me and the life entrusted to me by God.  I needed to learn acceptance.  I needed to learn love.  I needed to learn to feel and express.  I needed to be vulnerable.  I needed to step out of my own box.  I needed more than I could express and thankfully there have been people, friends, along the way who believed in me in that way.  I needed to believe in myself.

The journey “homeward” is never an easy one.  As a matter of fact, each time it appears you’re “getting there” new obstacles appear that open the door for deeper opportunity.  Deep down I have always wanted to do this for myself.  I believe that desire has always been there, that somehow I knew there was more to me than what I carried with me day in and day out.  I was never satisfied, and quite frankly, not sure I will ever be satisfied.  It’s in my DNA to question and to go deeper, either with others or within myself.  With every bite I took I knew there was something that was trying to be revealed.  The more I became aware, the more it was revealed.  I’ve never gone back and never plan on going back, to that place, at least.  When “home” is finally found nothing else satisfies the hunger.  Food, eating, addiction, has something very profound to teach if we’re willing to believe, to unlearn the learned, and to be open to the pain of others to enter in and teach.  The reasons change with age but so does what gives meaning and purpose.  What doesn’t change, though, is that hunger to love and to be loved.  When we recognize it as the eternal addiction we finally learn that nothing else satisfies and nothing will ever be enough except the utter abandonment of it all and a total trust in God as we fall into the mystery of our lives, broken and redeemed.  For “God does not love us if we change; God loves us so we can change.”

 

 

 

Go!

Acts 1: 1-11; Eph 1: 17-23; Mark 16: 15-20

I suppose they were expecting “happily ever after”.  If we go back 40 days now to Easter, the disciples had just witnessed the horrific death of their friend Jesus, then three days later raised from the dead, and I suppose expected “happily ever after”.  Everything was good again.  They’ve witnessed all he did as Luke and Mark tell us today and he’ll continue going about the mission that he had come here for in the first place and they can follow along.  Yet, and I would hope, that as adults we know enough to know that there are no fairy tales, there is no “happily ever after”.  Our lives are just not like that and nor for the disciples so when Jesus is lifted up into heaven today all they can do is look up at the sky and wonder what’s next.

Don’t we all catch ourselves staring at the sky, wondering when God’s going to do something about all the problems in the world.  I mean, can’t God do something about poverty, hunger, homelessness, refugees, war, and the countless other problems that plague the world.  It’s funny how God gets blamed for all of it while we stand idly by, at times, staring at the sky wondering why.  Yet, we hear today that the story doesn’t end with the disciples staring into space, questioning again what’s happening.  They, however, are given a command to go!  Their fairy tale ending with Jesus just isn’t going to be the reality but instead they’re told to go do something and imitate Jesus along the way, bring that healing and love to the world.

Paul tells us today that we’ve already been given the power to do something in the world.  It’s by no means an easy task that lies ahead for the disciples or us for that matter, but he reminds us today that the Spirit is already given to us and the more we learn to trust and have faith in the ascended Lord, the more we can tackle the problems of the world, bringing healing and love along the way.  It’s so easy to blame God, or others for that matter, when things aren’t getting done and people are not being cared for in our world.  It’s a whole lot easier to live in our “happily ever after” storybook than to face the realities of the world, the very realities that Jesus faced living out this mission.  Today is the day the responsibility of the mission is passed onto the disciples to simply Go!

We live in a time, though, when we’d rather blame.  The worst thing any of us can tell ourselves is that we’re helpless or powerless for that matter.  Any addict can affirm that for us.  We begin to tell ourselves, while we stare up at the sky, that the problems are so big, how can I possibly do anything about it.  It’s not my responsibility, it’s someone else’s.  Our favorite here, well that’s the government’s job.  Pass blame, victims of our own circumstances, all while gazing up at the sky waiting for a message to come from on High as to what to do, when all along the disciples are told don’t look up.  Rather, go out.  The mission is passed onto each.

Of course, it’s necessary, as I said Paul writes that we return to the source of life.  We, like the disciples, can also easily fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about us.  We begin to think we’re the savior or messiah.  Rather, Paul reminds us, as well as the gospel writers, that the Lord needed to ascend.  This mission is too big to be contained to a specific location.  It was going to need to spread from Jerusalem and Galilee to the ends of the earth but that can only happen because of today’s feast as the Lord ascends before the very eyes of the disciples, remaining with them, now in a unique way, until the end of time.  It won’t ever be happily ever after for them or for us.  There are too much hurting and suffering in our world today to even begin to think that.  Rather, like the disciples, the message of the feast is quite simple, Go!  When we allow the Lord to use us and work through us and within us, we bring the only thing that offers hope the world, the gift of our love and the love of God burning within us. 

As we celebrate this feast and prepare for the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost next Sunday, we pray for the grace to turn our gaze from the sky and unto the Lord, to be given that Spirit, enlivened within our hearts, so that we can live the command given to the disciples and continues today, to go.  No more blaming.  No more passing the buck.  Heck, no more thinking this is about “happily ever after”.  There’s too much work to be done, there is a mission to serve, so go.  Go, do something that brings love to the world.  Go, do something that brings healing to the world.  Go and allow yourself to be used by the Lord for mission and bring the good news through your lives.  Go!

What Matters Most

Malachi 1: 14–2: 2, 8-10; I Thess 2: 7-9, 13; Matthew 23: 1-12

If you follow what we call, the opioid crisis, you may have heard last week from Chris Christie mentioning that over the span of three weeks, this country loses as many people to overdose as we did back on 9/11/01.  That’s every three weeks and yet we have plenty of money to try to make us safer and secure but we can’t seem to find it within ourselves to deal with this continuing growing problem.  Maybe because it’s a problem that lies beneath the surface and can’t always see with our eyes.  We’re much better at reacting to what we see rather than dealing with the interior, unseen.  Just think about it, though.  If there are that many who are trying to mask themselves think about the amount of pain that is hidden in plain sight.  We somehow think that taking away the heroin, the pain pills, the guns, or whatever else will solve all our problems but all it does is tackle the seen and rarely pushes us to deal with the pain below the surface that leads us down the path of opioids or other means.

It’s the challenge Jesus often faces with the Pharisees, as he does again today.  Keep in mind, the Pharisees weren’t bad people.  They were well-intentioned and whether we care to admit it or not, there’s a Pharisee in all of us.  They seem to only care about how things are seen with the eyes, how they look, and keeping people distracted by what might be less important.  Along comes this Jesus who doesn’t seem to need them so much, despite the relationship with the Pharisees being one of need and dependency.  Jesus, rather, encounters the people where they are and with what matters most, their pain and suffering.  He’s not the least concerned about how things look, titles, being seen, or having the attention on himself, all he cares about is so often zoning in on the pain, not by medicating or numbing it, but entering into with the one who suffers.  It’s a radical approach to faith as they had known it.  The approach of the Pharisee is one of superiority and allowing yourself to be seen as “good” and blaming others for your problems.  For Jesus, it’s about going below the surface and bringing about radical change that can only come by a holy encounter in pain.

In the words of Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians, it’s a God who is like a mother who nurses and cares for her children’s hunger and need.  It wasn’t about being seen or about who’s in and who’s out.  No, rather for Paul it too was about this radical healing that needed to happen in people’s lives.  More often than not Paul would go after the communities for separating themselves from what mattered most even what was seen with their very eyes.  Their focus tended to be on themselves rather than the poor and people dying in the streets and encountering them in those very places.  Paul uses that image today to remind us of this God who doesn’t care about what we have or our bank accounts or how we are seen in the public eye.  Rather, it is that mother, as he tells us, who cares for her children’s very needs, needs that are so often not noticed on the surface but internally, as if instinctual, a deeper pain and hunger.

For the prophets it was no different just as with Malachi in today’s first reading.  He too uses language of a parent but now rather a God who is a faithful father.  Malachi is going after the priests who too had lost sight of what was most important.  They were much too worried about the Temple, in some ways as we often do, the façade of the building.  Somehow as long as things look good and fine on the surface we can ignore the deeper problems in our lives, city, and country.  All along, though, we become eaten alive by our pain that continues to lead us further into a virtual life that eases and numbs the pain rather than seeking that holy encounter within the pain so that it may be transformed and we may live life more fully.  They were no different than us, focusing on what separates us and divides us rather than the deeper issues facing our community, city and country.

When Matthew writes this gospel he too was worried about his own community.  That presence of the strong Pharisee was separating and dividing his community and he worried that they’d come apart.  Matthew worried how fear had crept in and was eating away at the community as he tried to unite them around the one who knew their pain, the Christ.  That Pharisee within each of us will always look for the short-term solution to our pain, turning to opioids, heroin, pain pills, guns, or whatever our choice is all that we can continue to function in our lives and world while being eaten within ourselves by our pain that keeps being pushed down and numbed.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the less important things that we see with our eyes rather than to be led to the unseen, the pain within our own hearts, that prevents us from loving in the way that Jesus has loved, like the nursing mother and the faithful father.

The amount of pain that exists in this city and country is even hard to imagine and in the short-term it appears we’ll continue to avoid and numb as long as we look strong and secure.  But deep down we know there is more, in the unseen parts of our heart lies a deeper pain that desires more than anything a holy encounter and a radical healing so we too can focus on what matters most, the lives we are called to go out to as missionary disciples, not to separate and divide but to gather together around the Cross of the Christ where radical healing, in our most vulnerable state, is brought forth.

Richly Poor

Luke 16: 19-31

The one side-effect or even shadow side of our addiction to the capitalistic culture which consumes us on all levels and aspects of our lives, is that it’s opened the door for us to demonize the poor. It becomes easy to blame them for their own problems and somehow believe that they are envious of others and simply want to be rich. It’s the crazy stuff that we tell ourselves and what our culture tells us. Yet, all it does is, in the words of Jesus today, is create this chasm that seems to grow wider and wider. Really, though, the more we separate ourselves from the poor we separate ourselves from the interior poverty of our soul that always seems to long for the fill of the pod. The external reality of separation of rich and poor is a reflection of the chasm that often exists within our own lives and souls, when we demonize that part of us and try to fill it with something other than God.

But here’s the thing. There is that longing for more in our lives that makes us all the same, whether rich or poor or anyone in between. It’s how we fill that desire for more that often determines the quality of our lives, which brings us to this Gospel today. It should be hard for us to hear today as it was for the Pharisees to whom Jesus is addressing it. Last week we heard the story of the steward and today the rich man and Lazarus, but in between the two are a few verses that describes the reaction of the Pharisees. Luke tells us that they love money and that they are growing weary of this Jesus and the threat that he seems to be bringing to their lives and this perceived power, especially through their love of money as Luke tells us.

So this is where Jesus picks up and begins to turn things on their head. Keep in mind that this is the continuation of the mercy parables of Luke’s gospel so it is first and foremost about who God really is. It’s also important to remember, that like many people today, there was this belief that somehow the more riches and stuff I had the more I was in favor with God. We even use that language about our wealth and belongings! If we believe that, we miss the point and are off mark on God. So the reversals begin at the start of the story. The one who would have been known by name because of his status and wealth becomes nameless and yet the one who is poor and has nothing, living out of his poverty, becomes named, Lazarus. Right from the beginning the pharisees would start to squirm.

But then there’s also the reversal of fortune. The pharisee thinks, thinks, that he is “living in heaven” because of his wealth, not only because of his status but because of his accumulation of wealth. But in the end, it’s him that his tormented. The more he separates himself from the man sitting outside his door, the more he tries to fill his pocket with wealth. His own deep longing is being separated from his life and the external world, and so as much as he thinks he’s “living in heaven” it’s really an experience of hell. He’s not living from the place of poverty but from his place of wealth. Jesus isn’t trying to scold him in some way. Rather, he’s inviting him to recognize his own poverty and to live from that place which can never be filled by what we consume but only by allowing ourselves to be consumed by God. It’s the novel of the story and to begin to recognize that Lazarus is me and Lazarus is you.

If we find ourselves demonizing in some way the poor and blaming them for our problems, well, the reality is, it says more about me than it does them and the chasm only grows wider and deeper in our lives. The story is not meant to spook us or even distress us, unless we have become blinded by our own wealth and stuff that we have accumulated. All that does is leave us with a false sense of security and something we can hold onto. Jesus, today, is inviting us to allow these realties to reflect one another, that by the way we treat others, in particular the poor, we are moving to a place where we can be more in touch with our own poverty and to begin to live our lives from the place.
There is nothing that is ever going to fill that longing and that desire for more in our lives. Yet, the entire capitalistic culture is rooted int that very reality so I can tell myself that I can’t live without something. It’s rooted in our weakness into fearing that place of poverty within ourselves, the Lazarus within ourselves, and the more I separate myself from the longing in my soul, the more I feel like I need something to fill it. It’s never going to be filled by something. We can consume all we want and the chasm grows. What we’re called to do is as it is with the Pharisees, to accept that that’s who we are, that there is this longing and desire for more within me. Rather than consuming ourselves allow ourselves to be consumed, not by the culture, but by the One who creates the longing, the God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The more we do, the more we no longer need to feed the rich man but rather accept that Lazarus is me and Lazarus is you, and then, and only then, will our lives be rich and fulfilled.

Stay

Acts 1: 1-11; Luke 24: 46-53

If you listen to these gospel stories each week, you know that they all have their own spin on it, Luke included whom we hear from on Ascension this year. They’re writing to specific communities with it’s own issues and concerns and Luke, often though Jesus, has a message he wants to convey. You add in his own history and story, then you also get a gist of his own journey and understanding of who the Christ was and is.

One thing that sets Luke’s version apart, in the end, is that he’s the only one that puts the words in Jesus’ mouth to have the disciples stay in Jerusalem until they are somehow clothed in glory, whatever the heck that means. Matthew and Mark send the disciples back to Galilee and now they will see things differently, through the lens of what it is they have just experienced. But Luke will have none of that. He simply commands that they stay in the city.

Why the heck would they want to do that? Certainly they wouldn’t choose that on their own. Jerusalem, at this point of the story, is a source of much conflict, not much different than it is today. They’re told to stay in the place that has been the place of such grief and loss, having to watch their friend suffer and die upon the cross. They’re told to stay in the place of great fear from the political and religious authorities who now really want the disciples out of the picture. It was one thing when this movement was contained to one person, in Jesus, it’s another when it begins to spread like wildfire through the disciples. Why on earth would he tell them to stay there, a place where life is so fragile and death knocks so closely at their door?

One thing is different about Luke, believing that he was a doctor of sorts, and maybe he understood pain a little different than the other writers. That if all of this was going to make sense, they were going to have to be patient with their struggles and continue to persevere through them. Jerusalem became symbolic in that way for the disciples and what they had witnessed and what they would witness to in their own lives. In our own culture and world, we do everything in our power to medicate ourselves from our pain, whether it’s through prescription drugs or other means, we find ways to avoid the pain and skirt around it. Luke presents a different way to the disciples and to us. He tells us by staying in Jerusalem until we are clothed from on high, we will learn to push through and be pushed through our pain and suffering. It’s the only way that the scandal of the Cross is the glory of the Cross, all at the same time. The city that sits on a hill has been the place of great loss and also the eternal city.

We always run the risk on these feasts to make them into something historical or something that will come later in life, but they are about today. In confronting and staying in Jerusalem today, we begin to see that all the conflict around us, the fear and anxiety, is really within us. It’s why we want to run so fast from it and do everything in our power to avoid it. Ironically, though, it’s the place that we find true power and our greatest gift. Staying in Jerusalem is important for the disciples and for us. They only way we can go out as they do in Acts of the Apostles is because they’ve allowed their Jerusalem and the scandal of the Cross there to be transformed into Glory by staying with it and remaining patient with themselves and this God that continues to reveal in different ways.

This feast isn’t just about the past nor about the future, but first and foremost, about today. It’s about the life that God desires for us today and to, as the opening prayer tells us today, to be led to where the Head had called us to go. Life would be quite dismal if we never moved beyond the cross. It would be depressing and we’d live a life of victimhood. But if we stay long enough, something begins to happen. Our pain is transformed and this space is created. It’s not an abandonment of God or even a withdrawal, but rather a widening of our hearts for something new, a life in the Spirit, that we will celebrate next week on Pentecost.

As we gather on this feast, we gather at many different places in life. So of us remain stuck in the darkness of Jerusalem, living in hope that we will be seen through to the freedom we desire. We know what that’s like. Some of us may find ourselves living in that Spirit and yet still question in my own frail humanity. We know that as well. Wherever we find ourselves, though, we are simply invited as the disciples are today, to stay. To stay with it. Stay with our Jerusalem. When we stay long enough, the message first delivered in Luke’s Gospel will come to fruition in our own, the impossible will begin to happen. Like Mary and Jesus, we will turn our lives and hearts over to this God, who meets us in Jerusalem, with the great desire to cloth us from on high and to lead us into the new creation we call our lives.

The Illusion of Being Satisfied

John 6: 1-15

I’ve had the chance over the past years in ministry to travel to Haiti twice to participate in mission work with different groups and I often think of that experience when I hear this gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. You know the poverty is extreme there and that in no way diminishes the poverty we face right outside our front door, but the extreme of it in Haiti is hard to imagine especially for us Americans. You know, they can go to grocery stores like we do up the street but they don’t buy the same stuff we do. I’ve tried to bring back a staple item there but it always falls apart on me but the best way to describe it is like when little kids make mud pies. That’s exactly what this food looks like and really is that they eat. It’s hard to imagine! It has absolutely no nutritional value but it does one thing. It gives the person the illusion that they are satisfied and full. That’s it; no value but an illusion of being satisfied.

I dare say we don’t go around eating mud or dirt pies but that’s not to say that we aren’t good at feeding that same illusion in our lives. You know, Pope Francis gets criticized a lot because of what he says about consumerism and capitalism, partially because the system is somewhat based on that very lie and illusion. We all know that we have a deeper need to be fed in relationship but at the same time aren’t and so the system preys on that need and feeds that illusion that somehow and in some way, whatever it is that is being sold is somehow going to do the trick and feed what hurts, only leaving us more empty and hurting, hungering and longing for something more. It says a great deal about the addictive society and world in which we live and how we go about feeding it with dirt and mud patties.

As much as I see that experience in Haiti, I also see the people in today’s gospel, clamoring for an experience of Jesus, trying to fill that deeper hunger and longing in their lives, practically crawling over one another to catch a glimpse, to be fed. I also see the people I see on the news who hurt. I see the people outside our front door who are hurting an looking for someone to acknowledge and reverence. I see the people in this city who continue to hurt and longing for something that will feed and nourish, beyond the mud and dirt that are often thrown at them. It’s an atrocity the number of kids that continue to go hungry in this city and this country while so many of us continue to feed the illusions of our own lives, disconnected from the reality of a people who are hurting and longing. Ironically, or maybe providentially, it’s a little boy that appears on the scene of today’s gospel carrying some bread and fish to be multiplied to feed the those who hunger. A problem that seemed overwhelming to the disciples is diminished by the young boy who then reclines and shares. In what we way are we feeding ourselves these days?

Yet, as soon as they are fed, Jesus scurries off in the gospel, up the mountain alone. As is so often the case in John’s gospel, they talk passed one another or yet, Jesus speaks on a deeper level. They thinking they are being fed physically, and they are; then Jesus speaks and blesses and breaks and they are fed on another level as well. This is no mud or dirt pie, this is what feeds forever, with some left over in the end. He scurries off and once again they will seek him out. The emptiness will once again overwhelm and consume as they try to be fed in other ways but nothing will take the place of that day, of that sign, when they were fed in more ways than one, in relationship with one another and with Christ.

These next weeks now we will find ourselves marching through this one chapter in John’s Gospel, the first fifteen versus being today’s on the sign given of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It’s known as the Bread of Life discourse of this gospel. In the end, some will leave. They won’t like how they are being challenged to think or to question in the way they are being fed and feeding themselves. As is so often the case, we want to maintain the status quo of life; yet, an encounter and relationship with the Bread of life demands something more of us. This relationship is going to demand of us to examine how we are being fed and feeding ourselves. What are the dirt and mud pies in our lives? What has no nutritional and spiritual value, and yet, that longing and hunger within us continues to draw us to other ways and means of satisfying what hurts. Bring it to the table and be healed.

The more we try to feed it with anything else, whatever it may be for us…the latest gadget, alcohol, drugs, the latest and biggest house, money, whatever it may be, if it leads to greater emptiness, it’s time to bring it to the table and let it go. There is but one thing and one person that will sustain us, feed us, nurture us, fill us, and that’s this meal we share and it’s our relationship with Christ in this Eucharist. We all buy into the illusion and will feed the illusion in our lives; we’re human and broken and poured out, but today we pray we may recognize those dirt and mud pies in our lives and demand now something more, something greater, that will sustain and nurture us all the days of our lives.