Turbulent Truth

I Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a; Romans 9: 1-5; Matthew 14: 22-33

If there is one thing we know about Matthew’s community and the community in which he writes it’s that they faced grave persecution.  It may have been worst for them more than anyone and so with persecution comes great fear as these outside influences put pressure on this community and on the followers of the Christ. We’ve unfortunately even made persecution into something pithy as abiding by rules and teaching but for them it was a fear of their own lives and this constant chaos and turbulence. You know, long before there was anything that we call ISIS or even hate groups we are familiar with in our own society, as well as gangs here in the city, there was the Roman authority and the religious zealots of the time of Jesus.  There was nothing merciful about them and they took out anyone that they perceived as a threat to their power.  Just before this gospel today of Peter walking on the water and the feeding of the crowd, John the Baptist is beheaded.  It’s one of the most heart-breaking stories in the gospels and all done out of fear and insecurity of those in power towards the ones who had the true power, the followers who had found freedom in Christ.

This is the context and the reality of Matthew’s community and so all that we hear, including this little snippet today, is somehow a message of hope to that community not to give up and to persevere in the storm.  So he gives us this image of the disciples being sent out onto the Sea of Galilee in the darkest part of the night, by themselves, and now in the midst of a storm.  Remember, this is not some boat that we’d see down in Harbor.  This is a piecemeal that they’d be familiar with and for Matthew, that boat was symbolic of his own community and what they are facing, the constant onslaught of storminess and turbulence from these institutions to somehow conform to them, to give into the fear and to give up the freedom as followers of the Christ.  It’s not just happening on the sea but is happening within them.  Of course, the message of Matthew is not to give up but to keep growing into that freedom and test the waters as Peter does.  But too much can lead to drowning.  Peter gains a little confidence walking on the water and in doing so quickly falls.  Matthew reminds them that they must not only fall on each other for support in these times but first and foremost to trust in the Lord.  Matthew is aware that all this noise from the outside and all the pressure that the community finds itself facing leads to blocking out that voice of the Lord, the quiet whisper deep within.  In that moment of chaos, Peter cries out and the Lord reaches out.  There’s hope in the midst of the violence of their lives and ours in this city as well.

As much as Peter began to drown, Paul finds himself in anguish for similar reasons or at least for what he is witnessing in the Roman community.  He describes himself in today’s reading as someone in anguish.  He has a deep love for this community and now sees the lack of belief and trust in the Lord.  They are giving into the ways of the world as a community and are giving into that fear and that pressure to conform to the ways of the status quo.  Paul often anguishes over being misunderstood by these communities.  He models for them what it means to live into that freedom of living in Christ.  It is what he is bearing witness and it so often seems to go on deaf ears.  Of course, the more he grows into will also lead to his own impending death as a prophetic voice and follower of the Christ.  Paul reminds the community not to give into the fear.  The fear seems to lull us to sleep, leading us to believe that we’re helpless and that there is nothing we can do.  That’s what the Roman authority and the religious zealots thrive on.  We may never change them nor the systems, but that can’t stop us from weathering the storm and not giving into the fear.  Sure, we may be different, but like Paul, we then stand as a witness to true freedom in Christ.

But we still have one more story today and that’s in today’s first reading from First Kings and the prophet Elijah.  We found Peter sinking, Paul in anguish, and now Elijah hiding in fear.  Elijah finds himself on the run.  His life is being threatened by Queen Jezebel after the slaying of the false prophets and now he’s beside himself.  Not only does he think he can hide from her he also tries to run from God and this prophetic call that has been given to him.  Much will also be demanded of him to remain true to himself and the eternal in the midst of much turbulence and violence, including violence against his own life.  But in the process of hiding, the great mount Horeb provides the space for perspective and context of it all.   Like Peter, when he finally begins to surrender his own fear and control, space opens within where he can once again hear the whispering voice of God speaking, assuring him of that presence in the midst of all this exterior noise.  He finds within himself, the eternal, to now go and confront and no longer fear the loss of his own life.

We aren’t much different than any of them in today’s stories.  We are often confronted with a barrage of noise that leads to continuous upheaval in our live, deeper fear of the unknown, and even in our own neighborhood, more violence.  I’ve had out on our front sign for more than a month now that in violence we forget who we are.  We not only forget who we are but we forget whose we are.  As I said, fear has a way of lulling us to sleep and into this deep amnesia.  We begin to believe that we do it on our own and before you know it the absence of mystery and this God becomes more evident.  We too easily give into this fear but as Matthew reminded his community, they are something more than that fear.  They have found that interior freedom needed to no longer be bound by the threat of the Roman authority and religious zealots.  In that sense, they will always be a threat and violence will continue to ensue.  As disciples and followers of the Christ, we are called to be that more and to not forget not only who we truly are but whose we are in Christ.  The call to conversion is for all of us, not to give into the helplessness and powerlessness in the midst of fear and violence, but to step up and be the voice not of fear but rather of love.

 

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Love’s Eye

Acts 2: 1-11; I Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13; John 20: 19-23

I was talking to some new pastors this week up at the seminary so of course part of the conversation was on prayer.  It is not only central to us priests but to all of us.  I was surprised when one of them had told me that he didn’t pray.  So, of course, I asked him why, and as surprised as I was to hear that he didn’t pray I wasn’t all surprised by the why because I had heard in many times before.  When I finally sit down to pray, to stop, to quiet down, it seems at that point my mind takes off, a million miles a minute along with all my fears and anxieties, unresolved conflict, and all the rest begin to surface.  That’s the reason why you have to pray in those moments.

I use the example often, now that we are into the summer and it is hurricane season, to imagine a satellite image of a hurricane.  Most have a well-defined eye.  Crazy enough, that’s where you want to be in the hurricane.  It’s the place where the sun shines.  There’s peace and tranquility.  That’s the place of center we take with us into the storm, into the million miles a minute, otherwise the wall collapses and the storm consumes our lives.  This feast we celebrate today at the end of the Easter Season defines our center, that place of peace and tranquility that is hopefully leading us and navigating us through the storms of our own lives, as individuals, community, country, and world.  We certainly know that that’s not always the case.

When the early community begins to form and that we heard of throughout this Easter season from Acts of the Apostles, they too found themselves often trying to find that center and allowing it to be their navigation tool through often tumultuous times.  It was not an easy go for them when community was beginning to form around this new identity in Christ.  Like any community, there is self-interest, there are people that are trying to satisfy their own needs, there are people that are trying to drag us into their own storms, into the chaos of their own lives that will often challenge that center, that navigation tool.

The same was true for Corinth in whom Paul writes today.  It’s a section of that letter that we are all familiar with when he speaks of different gifts but the same spirit being manifested in the life of the community.  He’ll go onto to speak about the different parts yet one body and culminate in the next chapter with his message of love that we are familiar with from weddings.  There was dissension in the ranks of the community because they thought one person’s gift was better than the other, thinking that speaking in tongues was somehow better than the rest.  It created riffs.  Like the world we often find ourselves in today, there was selfish motivation, which of course, at that point, loses its purpose of being a gift in the first place!  One gift is not somehow better than the other, but rather, Paul will go onto say that no matter the gift and no matter the person, at the center of the community, the great navigation tool, will be that of love.  That becomes the eye of the storm and it becomes the navigation tool that the disciples will have to take into the storms that await them on that Easter day.

There seems to be no great Pentecost experience with them when we encounter them in today’s Gospel.  There they are, caught in the midst of a wild storm as the witnessed the death of Jesus, the one who had been their center up to this point.  For John, though, he’s going to want to take us back to the beginning and not to just the beginning of the gospel but back to the beginning of Genesis, when God breathes life into creation.  Here we are now, locked in the upper room, filled with fear and doubt, wondering and questioning, feeling like they’re being consumed by the storm and all that they had known falling down around them, and Jesus appears.  But not to just pick back up where they had left off on Good Friday but to give them a new center that goes deep within them and yet so far beyond them.  Jesus breathes on them, not just into their mouths, but into their very being the gift of the Spirit.  That will become their place of authority, their place of deep love, their own navigation tool as we see them go forward throughout Acts of the Apostles.

As we draw this Easter season to a close today, we pray for that same Spirit to be breathed into us, making us aware of where our center is in life.  Do we find ourselves much more comfortable in the storminess, chaos, fear and anxiety, that at times consumes our lives or are we being led to a place of peace that expands truth and makes space within us for all peoples?  Maybe we’re at a place where we need to quiet down, slow down, even if our minds want to go a million miles an hour.  That’s exactly where that navigation tool is leading us, to expand that place of peace and tranquility within us.  The last thing the world needs is more chaos, fear, and anxiety.  It leads us to reacting to everything that comes our way, sucking us into the storminess of lives and feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Like the disciples, on this day God desires to breathe that life, that Spirit into each of us so rather than being defined by the storminess we become the agents of change by brining that navigation tool, that eye, that deep source of love to an often hurting world to bring about the redemption that is freely given to each of us.

 

Easter’s Good Friday

The Passion According to John

For a moment I invite you to look at this Passion that we just heard from John and this day that we now celebrate, Good Friday, from a different perspective. Over the centuries as a Church we have often only looked from one direction and that’s where we have just come from, the Lenten Season. It was a time of sacrifice, a time of giving up, but when we do we gather today in sadness despite the fact that on the first day of the Lenten season we’re told not to do that, not to be gloomy. That’s not the point of Good Friday despite the fact that we often do it not just with this day but with our lives, and in particular, we become fixated on our hurts and live a life of victimhood. What I invite you into, though, is to look at it as John did some 70 years after the death of Jesus and from the lens of resurrection, from the lens of Easter.

I have said for the past few weeks as we looked at the stories coming from John that he’s a very different interpretation than what we just heard back on Palm Sunday and Matthew’s Gospel. In John’s, from beginning to end, Jesus is conscious of what he does and is aware of not only the choices he makes but also how others respond to him and react to what he does and doesn’t do. Today’s Passion is no different and so it’s not just Jesus but John who’s writing to his community that views from that same lens. In the other gospels, it’s Jesus who is interrogated by everyone as the chaos ensues around him. But not in John’s. It begins that way, but being aware and being conscious of it all, Jesus turns the tables as he does throughout the gospel. It goes from him being on trial to him putting everyone else on trial and interrogating them, without getting trapped into their own chaos and confusion and struggle for power.

With that understanding, even to his own death, there is a point to everything that John conveys through images and events in the passion. One of the images that we tend to just flash by is the one, nearing his death, where Jesus has this encounter with the beloved disciple and Mary. He says behold your son and behold your mother. For John, the message he conveys to his community in that moment that a new family, a new community forms out of this moment. They are no longer simply bound by blood or by tribe but by something more. It’s not to say that blood or tribe just suddenly goes away, but as his community forms and this new family takes shape, it’s now the eternal Christ that unites them as a people. For John, what dies on the cross are the bonds that often separate us recognizing from the beginning, as his gospel begins, that it is the Word, the eternal Christ, that lives forever. It’s why it’s a solemn day but not a sad day. From the ancient Church it’s been this passion that we have heard as a people, not to embrace a victim mentality or viewing life through the lens of what was, but rather the new life and the new community that forms.

It’s followed up, as the death of Jesus takes place, when a soldier then thrusts a lance in the side of Jesus and blood and water flow out. For John, it all comes together in this moment, life and death, and the birth of a new people, a new family, a new community, flows when blood and water break forth. In the beginning was the Word John tells us and now in this moment, it’s not a lance that thrusts forth but rather new life. It’s the perspective that John tries to convey to his community. This celebration was about coming together to retreat and to reflect upon where we have come from and where the Christ now tries to lead us.

I can stand here and ask everyone of you in this church about the suffering of the world and our lives and I would bet that all of us would be able to identify the great sufferings that occur, from the smallest of children blown up by bombs to people killed on the streets, those suffering with great illnesses and so forth, but even that is about the perspective we have on life. It’s so easy to live the life of victim and that is one of the theories that has been drilled into us about Jesus and why this day happens. We could live in what was, embrace our hurts and how we have been wronged or somehow cheated out of something, but, quite honestly, then we might as well live our lives stuck on Palm Sunday and the lenten season and never move beyond. That’s not the grace of this day for John and nor should it be for us. That season of our lives has now ended and a new one is being given to us, a new beginning, as blood and water burst forth from the side of Jesus.

As we continue this journey and these days of retreat, we are once again invited to look at it from a new perspective, one that offers life rather than more resentment, loss, and victimhood. It serves us no good anyway. What are the symbols and images that seem to be touching our hearts at this very moment, where the Word now tries to break forth in our lives. We live our lives in hope and are called, as Jesus is in John’s Gospel, aware and conscious of who we are and what we do in the face of such suffering, often brought on by our own unawareness, and to be freed to embrace the new life. In the end, for John, it all comes down to this as Jesus breathes the spirit upon this new community as he takes his last breath. Yes, something dies but what remains is the eternal and it is the eternal Christ that stands as our truest bond as community and as family.

Freedom

Acts 2: 1-11; I Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

This feast we celebrate today, Pentecost, whether known or not, ranks in the same category as Easter Sunday and yet it never quite has the same flare and excitement that Easter brings. It’s the bookend of the season, it seems that we’re winding down, and then it’s Pentecost. As hard as it is for us to begin to grasp what we celebrate on Easter and the mystery of life and death, Pentecost is probably at least a hundred times more difficult and misunderstood. We can’t see this Spirit. We can’t control the Spirit. Heck, most times we’re probably not even aware of this Spirit. The Spirit is something we just can’t seem to get our minds or hearts around. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t carry the same weight.

As human beings, possibly our greatest obstacle to the Spirit is our need or desire to control. We love to control our own destiny and our lives. We even at times love to control other people’s lives. We know the Institution of the Church is no different. We like to keep order and control. Yet, this Spirit we speak of seems like chaos and disorder. The Spirit makes we speak of seems out of control. And so we find ourselves so often in between. We have the desire to control and at the same time the desire for the Spirit to set us free, the freedom that we know deep-down is what we’re called to in life.

It’s where God invites, leads, and meets us in our lives and always has. The chances of always living in the Spirit is probably nil. There’s always that ego of ours that wants to control. It’s what Paul confronts with the people of Corinth in the second reading today. This, for some, would be the beginning of the culmination of this letter. He’ll go onto to write about the metaphor of the body and then the section we’re all familiar with on love. But here he is today speaking about the one Spirit that comes in many forms. Yet, as I said, it’s coupled with people in power who want to control and dictate. He criticizes them for thinking and identifying gifts by ranking them, as if some were better than the others. That’s not the case for Paul. Paul works on leveling the playing field, especially when he speaks of the metaphor of the body, that all are necessary for the life of the community. One is not more important than the other. When they work together rather than against one another, the community will flourish and grow.

But it doesn’t come easy and we’ve heard the challenges that the early communities faced in Acts of the Apostles all season. They seemed to be in this constant tension of control and the freedom offered by the Spirit. There is some need for the structure that they were creating until it begins to stifle. We’ve heard the conflict and confrontations that they faced, even between Peter and Paul, seeming to pull in different directions, and yet, in the middle of it all lies this tension. It’s where God continuously led them to struggle with their differences. In the end, they are set free even with the structure to create something new by learning to let go and trust in the ever-gentle call of the Spirit leading them to something new. The community grows and flourishes rather than getting stuck and dead to sin.

And so we end where we began, then, with the Easter Gospel from John. There they are, the disciples locked in the upper room as we had heard on Easter. Desiring to be free and yet controlled by their fear. What seemed like an enormous task ahead of them only became daunting because they thought they had to control it. Then there is the moment of freedom. Jesus breathes life into them, entrusting them with the Spirit and freeing them from sin. In this moment of intimate encounter, their hearts will begin to open and crack and life will begin to change.

As we celebrate this great feast, the feast of the birthday of the Church, we gather now looking back at this season and the moments of growth and change that have called us forth. In the tension of life and death, individually and as community, the Spirit is forever at work leading us to the eternal. Yeah, we will always want to control. But that gets old after awhile. We begin to get cranky with life. We become cynical and begin to feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders. So often, in a moment of weakness, our desire for control begins to break down and we are led to something new, a different place that we may not even know. The box we had put ourselves in, others in, and for that matter, put God in, begin to break down, and like a strong driving wind, life begins to change, the way we see begins to change. That’s the Spirit at work in our lives. We pray for that Spirit to not only come upon us but to break into our hearts and to free us from our need to control and be set free to live life more fully, a life filled with the Spirit.

It Means Everything

Acts 10: 34, 37-43; I Cor 5:6-8; Luke 24: 1-12

So what? Why the heck is any of this important anyway? I mean, it doesn’t seem to have much impact on our lives and certainly not on our world. Maybe resurrection is just something of the past that doesn’t mean a hill of beans anyway. But you know what, I think God, Jesus, has the disciples exactly where God wants them. Think about it, the story today picks up where Friday left off. There facing chaos. They feel as if all is lost. There’s darkness, despair, grief. They’re totally disconnected from all their groups and are now in hiding. They’ve hit, as we call it, rock bottom and they have nowhere to turn. God has them right where they need to be, where they can accept death and then embrace the life that comes. But not yet, so it seems.

You know, they will quickly learn that there are serious implications to this event that unfolds in the gospel today as they encounter this empty tomb. It’s unfortunate because we’ve limited resurrection to some other life, this afterlife, that we can hope to anticipate, but for the disciples and us for that matter, it should be impacting us at this very moment. That’s why they become a threat now that Jesus has died and been raised from the dead. The implications are endless, in society, politically, and even religiously. We all know that they saw Jesus as a threat but the threat is about to grow. Paul uses the image of yeast in today’s second reading, which negatively, can grow like wildfire. But so can love and mercy and crazy enough, that becomes the great threat.

You see, God has them where they need to be. For the disciples, they have hit rock bottom and all that they know seems lost. It appears that they have no future. Everything they thought Jesus was supposed to be has been proven wrong. Everything that they wanted Jesus to be never happened. Everything that they thought they were because of their relationship with Jesus has been squashed. It’s all gone. This whole ego structure that they had created, which isn’t real in the first place, has now been diminished to rubble. And so have they. Quite frankly, it would have been much easier for them if the story just ended here. They could return to what they knew, their old way of life. Or could they? Had their hearts been changed. Yeah, at the moment they think it’s all nonsense and crazy and impossible, but very soon things are about to change. The threat of one man, Jesus, is about to grow and expand by leaps and bounds. The resurrection has implications for them and for us because they can no longer be touched by outside authorities, culturally, politically, and religiously, and anyone that thinks they have power in that way isn’t going to like it. It’s not because they fear giving up their lives; it’s because they have found true life and real power. If not, everything else tries to take it’s place and we’re back at the beginning, so what?

Throughout this season we will be hearing from Acts of the Apostles and Peter, Paul, and the rest will try to reconnect the people they encounter back to their roots. That’s what is often lost in faith communities today. You would think that the disciples of all people would have some connection with their own roots in the Exodus, the heart of any Jewish man and woman. But they still don’t see it that way, otherwise they would see such despair at the moment. That story, that root of their faith, should affirm that even in the darkest of times, the promised land is in sight. But they don’t see Jesus yet as the Passover Lamb or the Exodus before their very eyes. When they or we disconnect from our larger story, this great story of mystery, the Paschal Mystery, we begin to make ourselves the center of the world and everything pivots from us. Paul and Peter will remind these communities faithfully to connect with their larger story, the mystery being revealed and lived, otherwise, as Paul warns Corinth today, you’ll fall into the trap of spreading negativity and community will be built around ego and not the deeper mystery of who they are, in relation with Christ crucified, now risen from the dead. They have to get there and don’t even know it because they think what they are holding onto and what defines them is real, and to some degree it is, but it’s not the eternal present now. That’s where the implications come into play for them and us.

It’s no wonder that in the Easter Sunday gospels it’s about the women first pursuing this new reality. Think about it, if they must reach rock bottom and allow all else to die before they can seek the new life, who is it that lives on the bottom of the ladder in the time of Jesus? It’s the women, who’ve followed him from Galilee. They have no status. They have no institutional power. They have no success to pursue. In other words, they have nothing to lose because they’re already there while the men question, doubt, and think it’s utter nonsense. They will need to see with their own eyes this new reality before they can accept death and then embrace the new reality and become the true disciples of Christ crucified, now risen from the dead.

There are implications, or at least there should be, and if there are not, we too must consider our own relationship with the Lord. Unfortunately, we do a much better job of trying to enter into a relationship with the churchy Jesus, which too is often an illusion and something we must let go of, just like the disciples before we get to that place. It’s hard because it’s all we know and it feels like we have everything to lose. We do, but it’s our own and not the true power of the Risen Lord. They are a threat and we can be a threat as people, when we learn to accept death and embrace the power of the Risen Lord already given to us, right now. Right now! All of us! It’s what institutions fear the most because now the disciples have nothing to lose. The death and resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Everything. The power of love and mercy changes everything and spreads quickly.

Throughout these fifty days of Easter we’re invited to go deeper into this mystery that is are larger story. It’s what binds all of us, as we will soon do by renewing our baptismal promises. It’s not about membership. Rather, that even, these events, are about changing our lives and binding us in a way that is beyond our imagination, into the deepest recesses of our being, where we enter into this sustaining love affair with Christ crucified, now risen from the dead. I can finally come to a place where I realize and accept that it’s not merely a historical event that I come here to remember, but rather, the lived reality and the lived mystery of my life. There are real implications to saying we believe. It’s not what the disciples eventually do in Acts; it’s about who they are. They have let the scales of death and of their own ego, fall from their eyes and allow a new recreated order through the great gift and now lifelong relationship, with Christ crucified, now risen from the dead. So what? Well, because it changes everything, even our hearts and souls and the very way we live our lives.