More Than Imitation

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; I Cor 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20

They make it sound so easy, don’t they?  The disciples that is.  They simply drop everything, the nets, fishing, their father, other others and go on their way.  We can only imagine what the hired workers and the father thought in this moment.  There had to be some anger and a bit of resentment.  Yet, what the disciples don’t know, and often what we don’t know, is that as much as they can come out of the boat and follow Jesus, you can’t take the boat out of them.  That sense of duty, responsibility, guilt, obligation, expectation, or whatever you may call it goes with them.  They simply go from imitating one person, in their father, to trying to imitate Jesus.  That’s why it’s simply the first call of the disciples.  They were primed for it.  There’s a sense of adventure, something new, facing the unknown, and probably thinking, it’s got to be better than fishing.

And so their journey begins.  And sadly, for many, that’s where it ends.  This call of discipleship, as it was for the first disciples, is just the beginning.  Quite frankly, we all grow up imitating adults around us, for good or for ill.  Imitating Jesus shouldn’t be all that hard.  Although, we have trouble even getting that part of the journey down well.  But they’re not Jesus and nor am I or any of you.  I’ve mentioned this the past few weeks now, beginning with the Magi, it’s simply the first call for a reason.  The real call comes later in the story when the rubber hits the road and they are finally left with a choice.  For the Magi, it happens in Jerusalem.  For Jonah, it comes in Ninevah.  For the disciples, like the Magi, it happens in Jerusalem.  Those places become the apex of their first call.  You can’t go much further than death, despair, fear, anxiety, and that’s everything those cities become to each of them and where do they go from there.  That’s the real call and the choice for each of us.

For Jonah, he’s appears a little further along the journey than the disciples.  He’s already been called and in this tiff with God, which, as we all know, leads him to the belly of the whale all because he resists the call to go to Ninevah. You see, that place was everything that was wrong in the eyes of Jonah and others.  They were the enemy.  They were the oppressors.  To him, there was nothing good about the place and low and behold, back to where he started, he ends up on the shore of Ninevah.  He could resist all he wants but God’s going to keep pushing him there until he responds to the second call, which is to pass through the enormously large city, three day journey, through Ninevah.  Now if you read it, it appears that all lived happily ever after.  They repent of their ways.  They actually listen to him.  But, he still resists and becomes angry.  It wasn’t them that needed the message as much as it was him.  He too had a choice.  Was he going to continue to hold onto his own judgments of them and himself and of God and what it meant to be a prophet or was he finally going to surrender to where it was that God was leading him and become the prophetic voice that he was.  Not in comparison to everyone else but he had to become his own person.  In that image of the disciples, he finally had to surrender the boat because it no longer gave life.  That way of thinking and living only led to a resistance to the deeper call, the second call of Jonah, and for that matter, the disciples.

They will have their day.  The next weeks they’ll be living on a high.  They see all the good that Jesus is doing and they want a piece of that action.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something new and exciting.  But the sense of urgency and immediacy that Mark adds to the story, and which we’ll hear these weeks, is simply to get them to the real showdown and the real call that is being given to them.  As I said, imitating is easy but can they imitate all the way and surrender it all.  That’s where it becomes a rub for the disciples.  We know it takes them awhile as well, just as it does for us.  They’re immediate response is to go back to Galilee.  And eventually they will have to go back to Galilee but begin to see it in a different light.  They’ll go back to what they know, even if it hasn’t given them life.  They’ll go back to the boat because they think that’s good enough.  They’ll go back to being indentured to their father and the family business all because it got to hard.  Of course, they’ll eventually pass through the second call as the Magi did.  The Magi had to go through Jerusalem before they can reach the Christ in Bethlehem.  It’s one of the most humbling experiences because they learn it’s not about them but about this God who has called them forth not simply to imitate but to become and to be the fullness of who they were created to be.  It’s their greatest gift and it’s why they and Jesus were such a threat to the systems of their day.

Paul may sum it up best though when he speaks about all of this passing by.  We tend to worry about all the wrong things and get caught up the darkness of our day.  As much as this passing through is about us, it’s also about this city, this nation, and this world.  But like the cast of characters, we have to pass through dark times.  We have to pass through fear and anxiety.  We have to pass through our perceived enemies, as it was for Jonah, in order to experience the real call, the second call of discipleship, the choice of what we do in and with those times of our lives.  It’s crucial and life-altering but it’s the demand of the gospel and the fullness of the call of the disciples.

As we continue this journey through the weeks of ordinary time, we may find ourselves in very different places.  Some still trying to imitate, others in the thick of Jerusalem, discerning that call, and yet others on the edge trying to figure things out.  Wherever it may be, the call remains because the call is the eternal.  It will stay and will continue to see us through even the darkest times of our lives and the deepest of troubles all pushing to awaken us to the deeper call within, not just to imitate but rather to be our best selves, our fullest selves.  I know quite well that the boat is a comfortable place.  We all know that.  But it’s not where we’re meant to stay.  At this very moment God looks at us and with the gentlest of voices calls us forth to be the more we were created to be in this world.

Come and See

Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Romans 8: 8-11; John 11: 1-45

‘Come and see’. It seems like a rather odd response from the people when Jesus questions where Lazarus has been laid to rest, entombed, in his final resting place. Maybe even more peculiar is his response to their response. It’s the one time we hear in Scripture that Jesus wept. He cried at what was going on and as the scene moves towards the burial cave of Lazarus.

We must keep in mind who this Jesus is in John’s Gospel. He’s a very different Jesus than we’ll hear in Matthew’s Gospel next week as well as in Mark and Luke. We’re mindful that John’s Gospel is written some seventy years after Jesus had been crucified. We hear in the other gospels about the agony and such leading up to the passion, the suffering servant, but not here in John. If anything, John is more in line with St. Paul and what he has to say in today’s second reading. For John, it’s about the eternal Christ who transcends time and space, the one who was, is, and always will be who happens to take on flesh in Jesus.

So when they respond ‘come and see’ and Jesus weeps, it carries something else with it and as usual, as we heard the past few weeks from John, is not what you expect. See, the invitation that they give is the same invitation that Jesus gives to the disciples in chapter one of John. It is the call of the disciples, unlike the call from fishing in the other gospels. They know there’s something different about him, he peeks their curiosity, and he begins to lead them to this unknown, to this deeper mystery of who he is and who they are for that matter. But today, the people use those words in another way.

Now it’s not even that they didn’t believe in the resurrection. For the most part, many did believe in that reality. It becomes a tenet of faith. It’s not even that Jesus is weeping for Lazarus at this moment in the scene. What’s really going on and why he weeps is because they don’t believe him and they don’t believe in who he says he is. They just don’t. Sure, there may be a resurrection down the road but not in the here and now, a resurrection that happens in this time and space. For the first time, in all of these seeming controversies of the Samaritan Woman, the Man Born Blind, they feel like they finally have him where they want him and they, in their own way, lure him to the place of death, the tomb. Finally, there’s something that can defeat Jesus, in their mind, and that’s death. It’s death. Lazarus is gone. He’s as dead as you can get, done. Four days, stench, all of it, and the people finally smell victory in their fight against Jesus. And Jesus wept.

And it is the eternal Christ and their are certainly glimpses of that even in the prophets, such as Ezekiel whom we hear from in today’s first reading. For him, it’s not just about the death of one person like it is in the gospel. Rather, it’s the death of a people, the nation of Israel. It’s gone and once again obliterated in war and destruction and today Ezekiel stands before it and the field of dry bones. He questions whether there is hope in the midst of such death and enters into this encounter with God who assures him that life will be breathed into the bones once again and a new Israel will grow. It’s not about going back to who they used to be. Like Lazarus, it’s dead, no more. Rather, it’s about God breathing new life into the people and recreating them into something new. In some ways, God invites Ezekiel to come and see in that same way Jesus does at the beginning of John, to a place of curiosity, unknown, and deeper mystery of who they are as a people.

John’s Gospel has presented us with some great images to enter into as well as challenges to our own faith and what it is we believe. He weeps, even for us, that somehow we can continue to recite such words in the resurrection as we do in the creed each week and still not believe that it can happen in our lives at this very moment. We, like in so many of these controversies these weeks, become preoccupied with death and with being right over being led to this place of encounter with the Living Lord who is the resurrection, that we miss the point and become blinded by the tomb and the comfortableness of our lives. More often than not, we’d rather live in that tomb were it’s comfortable, and yet we know it and there is some consistency to it all. The call today, to come and see, is not to prove how Jesus is wrong and how death has won victory. Rather, it’s about being called forth from what has bound us and come and see what God has in store for us individually and collectively. It’s one thing to believe it as a tenet of faith. It’s another to feel it in, what Ezekiel calls, even the dry bones that have become a part of us as well.

Before we head into Holy Week, John once again invites us to use our imaginations and find ourselves in the story of Lazarus. Actually, it’s not about Lazarus at all! Where are we on our won journey of faith and understanding. Are we feeling like we’re being called to come and see how death has had victory, how Jesus loses, as to laugh in his face or is the come and see of Jesus, calling us forth from the tomb we have often created for ourselves, and for that matter, allowed ourselves to be bound by, calling us by name as he does Lazarus. In the end, Lazarus is the one set free as the rest watch idly by ready to cast judgement when the gift is right there before their very eyes. It is the last straw for the people and the gospel begins its downward spiral after this. This preoccupation with death will cast upon Jesus to prove once and for all he’s not who he says and they still won’t come to believe. He weeps for them. We desire the fullness of life, a life of resurrection. That, my friends, though, can only come from an encounter with the Lord of life who today calls us forth to come and see the victory he has prepared for us.

The Call of the Mountains

IMG_1532.JPGJohn Muir, still credited as the Father of the National Parks here in the States was famously quoted in a letter to his sister that “The Mountains are Calling and I must Go”. I don’t think you can ever appreciate such words until you’ve had the opportunity to visit places like the Rockies or here in Denali to understand the draw to such places, places that have cost many their lives in seeking not just the thrill of the adventure but a call from deep within to the wildest places of our own lives and theirs. Although I could never even begin to fathom the undertaking of those that descend more than 20,000 feet to reach the Summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley), there is something within that captivates you to such beauty and majesty, that when you’re in their presence, you can’t seem to take your eyes off of them, as if they have this innate quality to seduce you to a deeper mystery of and recognition that there is something not only beyond but deep within that is much larger than I can ever begin to grasp.

As we ascended today into a much colder climate, walking along Pika Glacier, it was hard to know where to look next, trying to absorb something that is beyond words. For a moment I drew my camera from my pocket, but I still know that the lens will never quite capture an experience that not only took us to the height of the mountains with thirty-some degree temperatures in late July, but at the same time into the depths of my own being, touching something that is known and yet remains so much a mystery. Of course, it was capped off by flying nearly 11,000 feet to capture a glimpse of the majestic peak of Denali, with a blinding sun bouncing off the pure white of snow to the deep blue skies only known to this Easterner during the months of January and February. But there it was, in all its glory.

Even as I sit here this evening, I can see outside the window part of that same Alaskan mountain range, not nearly as high and cleared of any signs of winters wrath. Of all the excursions that we have the opportunity to participate in on this trip, for me, this was number one. Like Muir, there always seems to be the call of the wild and nothing much like the call of the mountains. For someone who spends a great deal of time around concrete and macadam, it so often seems that the call becomes more faint. Some would say that we become nature deprived and when we do, the call only becomes louder and louder within. Today I responded to that call to go to the greater heights and depths all at the same time.

I really cannot imagine what it’s like for those who scale these mountains and peaks and the harm and danger in which they put themselves all in response to this call. No, we aren’t all called in the same way. For some of us, it’s to share the experience and lead others to those very places within, to the Denali of our own souls that takes more than a plane with skis to truly reach, but a symbol and metaphor nonetheless for the seeking of God and self. So there we were, a mere 5,800 feet up standing on the glacier, trying to take it all in. But that’s the challenge for us even in life, knowing we can’t possibly take it all in or know the depths of such beauty and mystery. All we can do is each day respond to the call of the mountains and then go. Despite the risk or any danger of living life with such courage, the more we respond the more we are seduced by the beauty and depth, as if this Mountain has somehow captured our hearts and souls without us even knowing it. For those who choose to stand by and ignore a God of such majesty, it must be hard to explain something so magnificent in a scientific way or the movement of tectonic plates and earthquakes over the years. No, there is something much more here and it captures the minds and hearts of everyone, from the first moment of catching a glimpse.

Today, it was more than a glimpse. It was literally touching and smelling, breathing in something that remains unspoken and yet experienced in such a deep way. As we flew through, shivering at times with fingers chilled, none of it seemed to matter. Nothing seemed to matter because you knew you were in the presence of something great, of something beyond words, of something beyond explanation, and yet, seductive beyond belief, drawing each of us into to the more we seek and desire in life. Like Muir, when the mountains call, you go. Otherwise we torture ourselves, trying to control and direct our own lives, rather than stepping out of the plane into an unknown place within the heart of the Mountain, to have hearts, minds, and perspectives changed by the simple gift of responding to the call of the Mountain.

What Do You Want me to do For You?

It seems rather ridiculous that Jesus would ask blind Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you” in light of the fact that we are all aware and know his condition, he’s blind. Wouldn’t that be the obvious answer for Bartimaeus or for any of us, for that matter, that I’d want to see? But maybe it isn’t that obvious. What makes this encounter different, knowing that this section of Mark’s gospel began with a healing of another blind guy, where the same question was never posed to him?

I have used that question many times in hearing confessions with people and we often have no idea just how hard it is to answer. I dare say that it carries with it a lot of our baggage, at least what I have been able to tell in talking with people. Our automatic reply is that God already knows what we want. Another response is a thinking that we’re not worthy enough to be asked such a question, holding not a great deal of guilt and shame that prevents us from even hearing the question. It’s not easy to identity the deepest longings of the heart and soul, especially when we really believe that there is something wrong with us, not even recognizing that it’s not only the healing but also a restoration of our dignity in God’s infinite creation.

However, before we even get to the question in today’s gospel there is first a call that takes place. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus and in turn Jesus calls him. Remember some of the other stories we’ve heard these past weeks. It wasn’t that long ago that we heard the call of the rich man and we know how that ends; he walks away sad, unable to give up his riches. Although the disciples are directly called, they were fighting over who was the greatest, brothers bickering about who will sit on the left and right, unable to give up there thirst for power. And then the call today, from Bartimaeus and to Bartimaeus. Maybe this takes us to that deeper place of the question asked by Jesus, leading to an authentic call and response from the one who has given it all up and then follows the Lord. The one who is powerless in the life of the community, seeks the Lord in his own desperation, humbled and primed for this encounter.

The irony for all of us, though, is we often are not aware of our own blindness and blindspots that we have. The more the Lord calls out, we can continue to get stuck in that question of worthiness, believing the shame and guilt we’ve lived with our entire lives, thinking that’s the way, believing that voice when it calls. Yet, that voice of the Lord will continue to call out and penetrate through the blindness of our lives until the call from within is in union with the call from beyond, an encounter with the living Lord as it is with Bartimaeus.

As we know it was never an easy response for Israel either. They often found themselves being asked that question from within and beyond and seemingly lost over and over again, whether in the Exodus or in exile as many of the prophets write, such as Jeremiah today. Yet, that voice never stops calling them forward. But like Bartimaeus, they too often have to reach the point of desperation and humility, letting go of their own pride and shame before they can respond to the call to return to the land of life. Just at that moment when you think you can’t go any further, the mercy and love of God unfolds, eyes are opened, and we follow on the way.

In the end, the call and response is one and the same, coming from and to that voice of God that calls us out like Bartimaeus. How often do we not have time to even listen to it or get stuck in the worthiness question that prevents us from the free response to the Lord. Bartimaeus provides us the opportunity to sit with your imagination in prayer and to begin to hear the voice of Jesus speak to us, “what do you want me to do for you,” but rather than shying away, allow yourself even to be moved to tears, knowing, like Batimaues, God’s mercy and love has begun to penetrate our blindness and we can be restored to wholeness and holiness. Once penetrated, we too will pick up and follow on the way and our lives will be forever changed.

It’s Too Hard

Ephesians 5: 21-32; John 6: 60-69

I came across a book this week entitled Thieves in the Temple. The basic premise of the book is that religion in America has become bankrupt in many regards, it’s lost it’s purpose. The author cites that it’s become much more about entertainment, money, and membership, a more business model rather than the intended purpose of salvation of souls and the conversion of hearts and minds. Now he is speaking of a very large umbrella of the institution of church, beyond just Catholic, but has also at times. I thought of that as I was looking at this gospel that we hear today and how what it is that Jesus speaks of is too hard for the some of the disciples. We look for the easy way out, least amount expected of us, choosing sides, and so often fear-based over the life-giving faith that Jesus speaks of to the disciples. It’s too hard for them and often for us.

But think about what we’ve listened to the past few weeks in this Bread of Life discourse. We’ve heard this constant bickering and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and in the middle of it all, listening to every word, are the disciples. They’re left with a choice and many choose to go back to what is known. I’ve thought about it, the Pharisees would have at least been perceived as the greater threat. They’ve already heard what they’ve thought about Jesus and the animosity towards him. If they’re being called to live such a radical life are they willing to face the same thing. Fear has a way of taking a strong hold on us and them in those situations. It was never that Jesus was even expecting them to give up what they held so closely, the law that they knew, but rather to fold it into something deeper, to reconcile these pieces of life that often become fragmented over the course of our lives. It’s hard work, living a life of faith and living wholly and holy in the way Christ calls. Even for Peter, despite his firm acclamation in today’s gospel, we know when the going gets tough at the end, he too is taken hold by fear and will have to be led to a place of reconciliation as well. It’s hard stuff when we commit ourselves to a life of faith; how easy it is at times to choose the easy way out…settling for entertainment, money, and simply filling the pews. That’s not faith and rather than blaming the world, sometimes we have we have to be willing to look at ourselves and see how we are contributing to the problem. If we’ve strayed from our purpose of conversion and the salvation of souls, not only does religion become bankrupt but so do we. We become divisive, violent, make politics into a religion. It’s hard but it’s the way to life.

Then there’s this second reading from Ephesians. Paul takes a lot of heat for it and quite honestly, there’s question whether he’s really the author of this letter to begin with! I did a little research to see what was going on culturally and in society at that time as to why he would write these words. At that time there was a struggle with differing understandings of marriage. There was, of course, still that sense that the woman becomes property of the man and Paul is trying to reconcile that with faith. Maybe most importantly is that at the end of the reading he too returns to the roots of who they are and speaks of the two becoming one from the Book of Genesis. It’s where Jesus tries to lead the disciples, although some split by differing values, to a place of oneness within themselves, a life of wholeness and holiness which only comes through a reconciliation of our “former way of life” to what it is that Christ calls us to; that’s how we become one but it’s also why this is so hard and why some choose not to proceed and accept the call. It’s easier to choose the lesser and be satisfied. I do wonder, though, that once the word has been planted, do any of them begin to feel something missing from their lives when they return to the former way? Will they go away restless for something more in life?

As we wrap up this jaunt through John’s sixth chapter, the Bread of Life discourse, we ask ourselves if it’s too hard for us. What kind of life are we looking to live? Can we be satisfied with anything less that the word that has and gives eternal life, Jesus Christ? It’s easy to say that we are committed, but when push comes to shove as it will for Peter, what will we do? Will the former way of life look all the more appealing in that moment? When we commit ourselves to Christ and a life of faith, we will never be satisfied with anything less. It may be hard, but a life of wholeness and holiness is hard to beat and nothing else will do!

Food for the Journey

1Kings 19: 4-8; John 6: 41-51

It’s hard not to feel for Elijah in today’s first reading. It was just a few months ago that we heard the next portion of this reading when he gets to the cave and looks for God in the fire, and earthquake, only to find God in the whisper of the wind, blowing within his heart and soul. But we go to feel for him. We know what it’s like on this journey. His back is up against the wall. Life isn’t nearly what he had expected it to be or wanted it to be. He’s feeling alone and abandoned. All in the name of God who somehow put him in this position! He has nowhere to turn. Queen Jezebel pretty much has a warrant out for his head. He’s exposed and taken out the false gods and prophets, exposing them for what they really were. You just got to feel for him. We all know what that’s like in life when we’re at our wits end. We’d all want to run and hide as he does today. That’s where we pick up the reading today. He even would prefer death! Ironically, that’s what he will experience, but even that will come in a different form than he prays and thinks of at this moment of despair!

In his moment of despair, though, we hear today that an angel appears to him to offer him food. Understandably, he’s not all that interested in eating anything or listening to anyone associated with God, considering so much disappointment in his life right now surrounds that place. But the angel encourages him to eat for the journey; you’re going to need to eat in order to continue the journey. Most notably, though, is that the journey is not to return yet to what he has left behind or to his original call as a prophet. He wasn’t quite ready to return to that place. The food for the journey moves him further and further out into the desert. Elijah must first embark an another journey, deeper into this great place of emptiness in his life, forty days and forty nights, into the depths of the desert, physically, and into his very soul. Elijah must be emptied of all else that he has fed himself with…the despair, the heartache, the expectations, the sadness, before he can return and face his true identity. That little bit of food under the broom tree is enough to take you on your way to these deeper parts. Elijah must make the journey from all that he thought and held onto to the depths of his being to find what will truly nourish. Heck, he’ll be able to confront most anything because not even death can stand in the way once he finds that place!

Desert is a common theme in Scripture. We know Jesus begins his public life in the same way. Before he can go out to both Jew and Gentile, Jesus must go into the depths of his being in the midst of the desert. He must confront his own temptations and the strong pull to be something other than we are and he is. In this squabble with the scribes and pharisees, he comes from that place and tries to lead them to it as well, the place that will endure forever. But like Elijah, they think they have it all figured out. They think they have him figured out in a derogatory way recognizing him only as the son of Joseph. That’s true to a point but he’s more than that and so are we. The scribes and pharisees fear the desert more than anything for it feels like losing control, which is what they thrive on. They like things neatly boxed, fitted together, all the answers and life figured out in their own way. But that’s simply the god they’ve created for themselves and works for them. It’s not the God who feeds eternally, inviting us into that second journey of life as it was with Elijah, calling us to something more, paradoxically, in our very emptiness we find the life of the world.

Now we may find ourselves in the midst of the desert of our lives at this very moment. Maybe we’re right where Elijah is, questioning how all of this can be, bemoaning what life is throwing at us, but that’s the place where we are most vulnerable and the place that God can speak and feed us with the true bread. This isn’t just something that we receive nor is it something that we need to have all figured out. If we think we do, it’s most likely more a theological construct where we get to determine who eats and who doesn’t, but the journey of the desert is one that takes us somewhere deeper into our souls that needs to be nourished and at the same time nourishes us for the journey. In the process and in the journey we find what it is we have always looked for, the true bread from heaven, God, and most likely not in the way we wanted or expected, but God nonetheless. To live our true vocation we must allow ourselves into the journey, and face death like Jesus and Elijah, into the desert of our lives, in order to go back, and yet forward, and be who we always were called to be and to the place that will give us life eternally, both now and forever.

No Going Back

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

There’s one thing that the prophets quickly learn, as Jesus does in today’s gospel, you pretty much cannot return home. Most of us can understand it on some level like when we leave home and start to break away, it’s hard to return. It’s hard for others to see us beyond the lens of who we were in their image and who we have become. Jesus meets immediate resistance when he returns, questioning his authority and the wisdom he shares. Like any of the prophets, home has changed for them. Home is no longer defined by the outside relationships of family and friends, but is rather found within. It’s that home that gives the authority and wisdom to say and do has they do to the people.

But it doesn’t come without a fight. That is the consistent theme of the call of the prophets of the Hebrew Scripture. From Ezekiel whom we hear from today to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest we hear from throughout the year, there is this ensuing tension with God and the call that is being given. It gets to the point where they almost can’t not do it because it becomes agonizing for them until they can finally surrender to that voice. Like any of us, there is always that desire to conform, go along with the crowd, fit it, be accepted, but to be authentic and live out that call, Ezekiel must move beyond that and grow to accept the call that is being given in going out to Israel. However, despite their hardened hearts and Ezekiel knowing the difficult task that is being placed within and on him, he’s freed up by God reminding him that whether they heed or resist, a prophet has arisen. Their acceptance or denial of his call has no bearing on the fact that he’s being called in this way, to a new way of life and to be this prophetic voice to the people. It’s not that he’s being called to be the doomsday guy or to tell them how to live their lives, but given the gift of the spirit, he sees and hears on a different level. He becomes the voice and eyes of a God who is always present, even in the hardness of their hearts and the messiness of their lives. This is what Ezekiel sees and hears and can’t not be that voice to the people.

Jesus, as I said meets that resistance when he finds that home within himself, just as Ezekiel does. He returns to his native place where you’d think they’d welcome him with open arms and yet is quite the opposite. What do they see? They see a carpenter. They see the son of Mary. They see what and who he used to be, from their own lens, and yet can’t see him for who and what he is now. Even Jesus sees he’s going to get nowhere here in his native place. Their own hardness of heart prevents them from seeing the face of God in their midst. They are probably the ones that needed the miracles the most; yet, their prevented from seeing and experiencing the gift. They question his wisdom and his words. Of course, finding that home within leads us where we don’t want to go, in the face of persecution and hardship, suffering and to the cross. It’s what leads to his impending death on the cross. He too can’t not do what he’s been called to and to be that prophetic voice. But we are all called to that life of mature faith. When we come to this baptismal font we are all anointed priest, prophet, and king. We are all called on this journey in where we too are no longer defined by our exterior relationship and circumstances, our past, but rather find that voice within. That’s how we become the person God has created us to be and to be God’s gift to the world, His instrument.

Paul, too, understands the challenge of that call. He calls it a “thorn in the flesh.” It’s something that is always there. He questions along the way as Ezekiel and the other prophets do. When standing in the face of pain and suffering will I be able to be true to that voice, even if it means confronting the thorn in the flesh in my own life, suffering at the hands of others who can’t accept this call that has been given? It’s not easy being that voice, which is why so many choose otherwise and would rather that voice be silenced within rather than to be true to it, to be authentic. In the end, though, we lose what is most important to us when we do. Paul, like many others, are not willing to give that up once it’s found and will face martyrdom if that’s what it takes to be true to the home that has been found within.

There are many that claim to be prophets in our world. There are many that think they are great defenders of what we believe. Yet, so often it’s empty words if it’s not grounded in something and someone deeper within ourselves. When we continue to try to please others or want acceptance more than authenticity, we will continue to surrender our greatest and most treasured gift, our authentic voice within. We all have one, but like the great prophets that have gone before us, when we settle for something less, God will continue to wrestle as long as we need to, but in the midst of our own suffering that we continuously bring upon ourselves, God’s presence will arise and win out; God always does. We pray that we may find that voice within and remain true to that voice, our own home. It may lead to rejection and other suffering, but we will remain true to ourselves and the true home within will become the home of the many who go without in our world.

A Changed Vision

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10

The first reading today from the Book of Genesis probably sounds rather bizarre to us, especially if you’re a parent or grandparent. I can’t image anyone wanting to be in Abraham’s position today as he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. What makes it even more bizarre is we know the back story and the waiting and questioning that Abraham and Sarah did in their lives in wanting to give birth and now here he is about to do something that we’d consider quite crazy! The obvious connection between this reading and Jesus is of course the sacrifice of the son and the Son. Yet, like in our own lives, it’s often not about the obvious; there’s often something deeper going on in our lives that is beyond words and understanding and maybe by means of reflection, can we ask ourselves if we’re willing to give up and sacrifice what’s most important to us?

Again, think of the context of their lives, Abraham and Sarah. Think about how they struggled in life and with God, how they would question and wonder and doubt what it is that God was doing in their lives, working on them constantly. When they learn that they were to give birth to a son they laugh in the face of God! When they can finally let go of the doubts and how they thought God should act and what God should do in their lives, somehow shorting them of something they felt they should have in the birth of a child, the Spirit begins to break through in their lives. The same thing happens with Abraham in this reading today. He think he understands what God is calling him to do, again, in his own need to grow and change over time and in life, is being called to see and hear and listen from a different point of view. In that moment, the Spirit breaks through his life and his soul begins to expand, “countless as the stars in the sky and sands of the seashore”. Once again, Abraham is invited into a deeper place, a more radical place in his own life in becoming the father of faith and living the will of God.

The disciples will get there eventually. Their own vision and hearing is still limited to what they are being called to, despite the invitation that they are given in today’s Gospel. The glory is revealed before their very eyes and yet they are warned not to tell others of the experience. Jesus knows quite well that they aren’t there yet and it would be from a place of authenticity yet because their vision and their own ego and thought pattern of who God is and who and what it means to be the Christ; they remain limited in the midst of the unlimited. It won’t be until their own interior lives are rocked by the Cross that their own vision and hearing begins to change and the transfiguration will begin to make sense, not as something seen beyond them but rather something that unfolds within them and to live the more radical life of love that God calls them to in their lives. They have to come down off the mountain and out of their heads in order to not just think who this God should be but to experience the God they will come to know. Sometimes the most important thing we have to give up and sacrifice is the way we think, our opinions, our judgments that we hold onto, even the ones that we hold about God before we can embrace that radical life that we are called to as disciples.

As we continue this journey through the lenten season, we pray for a breaking through in our own lives and in our own journey as individuals and a community. Lent, and these readings, are a good reminder of how limited we can become or allow ourselves to be limited, avoiding a change in our own vision of life and God or our inability to hear that voice of God calling us to come down off our own mountains that we create for ourselves and delve deeply into our humanity and to see the divine within, straight to the Cross of Calvary, leading us to a more meaningful life, one filled joy, a life with an expansion of soul as Abraham experiences when never growing weary of God who remains faithful through it all, always trying to break into the world and into our sufferings in order to bring life and love, for as Paul tells us today, nothing can separate us from that love. God calls us to that more radical way of living, a life filled with love and meaning; a love that leads us to even sacrifice what we have deemed most important to us and, in turn, a love that expands from the stars of the sky to the sands of the seashore.

Breaking Through

Job 7:1-4,6-7; Mark 1:29-39

No one has more right to live a “woe is me” life than that of Job. The story we hear in the first reading today sounds dismal, dark, lost, whatever you want to call it. He says life is a drudgery. He says he shall never see happiness again. How hopeless to us Sunday listeners of the word! Yet, it’s where Job was at, where we are often at in our own lives, living outside this place of hurt, suffering, and our own lostness in life, pleading with God and for God’s grace to break through into our world and lives.

Yet, we are all too familiar with Job’s story. We know suffering in many different ways, but maybe he provides us today a chance to look at it differently and what’s going on interiorly with Job. It’s safe to say, over the course of this archetype’s life that the God that Job thought he believed in was not the God that he encountered. Such suffering comes when this begins to break down in his life and in ours as well. From the time we are kids, we hold onto what we think God is about and for some, they never move beyond that. We live in this constant fear, that like Job, somehow God is going to strike us down, continue to test us, push us down until we break. And maybe all along that’s exactly what God is trying to do by breaking us down. Not in the sense of being beaten up and pushed into the ground, but to begin to allow the grace of God to break through into our lives and through us into the world to let go of a god that no longer is. It’s painful and hard stuff for all of us because the story of Job is my story and it is your story because the God we grew up with, and for that matter, created for ourselves over the course of our lives, isn’t the God that is going to transform us and free us from the pain and suffering of the moment. Quite honestly, that god only leaves us trapped in our suffering so that it begins to feel like Job, where life is a drudgery and we start to think that we will never see happiness again because we aren’t living out of the place of grace and freedom, precisely where the true God, who heals the brokenhearted, is trying to lead Job and each of us.

Jesus once again this week goes to that sacred space as he did last week with the disciples. He once again is going to model to the disciples the life they are to lead. He goes on to heal Simon’s mother-in-law and many others who are afflicted with suffering, illness, and once again, demons. He again tries to lead them to that interior place within their souls, but not before the journey of the cross in breaking down their own ideas and images of God, like with Job, because for the disciples as well, the god they thought they knew won’t be the God of their experience and the God that is going to call them to the deep waters of their own souls and to begin to live life from this true place, the place within, where the grace of God flows and heals our own brokenness and those who come seeking healing in their own lives. Jesus then goes on to model for them the necessity of prayer on this journey to the true God. He goes off to find solitude and silence, despite the searching of all, as the gospel tell us. He knows that already and continues on, leading us forward to that place we desire.

My experience, personally and also as a priest, is one that a great deal of the suffering that we experience daily is brought on by ourselves. We hold so tightly, as Job does, to things that aren’t real or may not exist or certainly don’t bring fulfillment into our lives because it’s all we know. Like the cast of characters we meet today, we too are called to live the journey to the true God because we too hold onto images of god that we have created for ourselves, our survival god, if you wish, who isn’t the true God to begin with. The journey to and of the cross is an experience of letting go of these gods and finding the love of the true God, the God that calls us to live our lives from a different place, a place within that leads to fulfillment. Until then, we will remain restless and desiring and wanting something more out of our lives, often feeling like Job because we aren’t living out the call God has placed within. God calls us to live out of our own sacred space and calls us to let go of the life of drudgery and unhappiness, not a life God has given us, but a life we so often have created for ourselves but now is being broken down so we may live fully in God’s grace and love. God is breaking in at this very moment of our lives, desiring for us to accept it and ultimately, to live it faithfully and with great hope to the world.

Hungering from Within–Our Deepest Call

1Sam 3: 3-10, 19; 1Corinth 6: 13-15, 17-20; John 1: 35-42

Our pastoral council has spent some time looking at our mission and vision statements and where we’re going as a parish. If you pull up the website you’ll see a vision that says on the headline, “manifesting God’s love in Govans and beyond.” That came to mind as I read these readings today for this weekend and the call of Samuel and the disciples. How are we manifesting that love? It’s been what the readings have been about these past weeks. We heard that with the birth of the Christ, the visit of the Magi and then last week that manifestation in the Baptism and in the Sacramental sign, but today it now becomes the learning ground for the disciples and how it will be manifested in their life. Jesus begins to spell out his own mission and vision for the disciples.

For beginners, because I think there’s at least two maybe a third call in our lives, it can seem quite simplistic. Jesus simply peeks their curiosity in his response to their question. They leave what they did and began to follow. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing, but something that Jesus says and is spoke to something deep within them that they leave and go. Somehow THE Christ was speaking to the Christ within them. You may remember a few years ago when there was that movement, “what would Jesus do?”. I think that’s a lot what it was like for the early disciples and even ourselves. They first set out to emulate the qualities of Jesus and do what Jesus did, but eventually that call to manifest goes deeper and begins to unsettle the disciples and us. It begins to ask more and to give up more,including one’s life, and in John’s Gospel, many are turned off he tells us in the sixth chapter and they leave. With John, there seems to be many miscues. Jesus is trying to lead them to one place and they’re still not there, needing to see, and do what he did, but ultimately, the cross of Christ will catch up with them, deeply rooted and embedded in their greatest hunger and longing, that will lead to the second call to leave everything and do more than just emulate what Jesus did but begin to manifest the Christ within to the world, their and our gift to the world, coming from deep within the soul.

The Corinthians, well, they’re often lost. They have hunger but it is in no way fed in proper ways. They loved to party but in the process, neglect those in need, the poor, those they deemed less than themselves, and Paul wanted nothing to do with it and proceeds to try to lead them to that place within themselves as individuals and community where they can experience the deeper connection with humanity. He was calling them to become aware that there is something deeper that unites them and the cross of Christ would eventually catch up to them as well. Deep within, they fed that hunger and it manifested itself to a life of immorality, as he says, and divisiveness. They weren’t even at a place where they could emulate what Jesus did let alone the manifestation of the Christ through their lives in the world! The call from God runs deep and yet is quite still and quiet and will remain until a response of yes from the individual and community. The catch, once there is a yes, there’s no turing back. Nothing else will satisfy or fulfill.

Obviously Samuel is still young in his own call from God and is questioning what’s going on around him; he still hasn’t become aware that it’s coming from deep within him. Much will be asked of him and how his vocation is manifested. Heck, not even the elder Eli can at first begin to understand what’s going on in Samuel’s life. Yet, until there is an acknowledgment and a response, the call persists. God keeps nagging at young Samuel until there is a response to the God who calls. We don’t hear what he’s going to be called to, but long before Jesus even steps foot on this earth, the cross of the great Christ will catch up with young Samuel. Again, that nagging keeps driving his deepest hunger to respond yes, despite the fact that he will be called to be the bearer of bad news to the people. He will be called to warn them of their waywardness in life and the need to seek that deeper hunger. You can run all you want, but that cross of Christ, imprinted on our very souls, will catch up with us eventually as well. We won’t feel fulfilled. We won’t feel joy in life. We’ll start to feel empty and overwhelmed by life. So often because we avoid the call to “come and see” what we can’t see in the depths of our souls, stirring a hunger that can only be fed by God and a daily yes to the will of the Father in manifesting His love in the world.

As we enter these weeks of ordinary time, how are we manifesting that love, the deepest call of God our lives can bear, in Govans and beyond? God is always calling. There’s nothing wrong with God. We pray for that stirring of the Spirit in our own hearts and souls and an awareness to it. The call to discipleship is not limited to certain people. God’s love is to be manifested in many different ways and in many different places and deep within, God has placed that call within you and me. Deep within, God awaits our yes to our deepest human hunger, mirrored in the cross of Christ, our yes to manifesting God’s love in the world through our very lives through our call as people and community.