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

I would guess that most are aware that the Person of the Year on Time Magazine was not a person, but rather #MeToo.  It was the “Me Too” movement that had begun months ago and then showcased in that edition of women, and some men, who had been sexually assaulted from persons of authority, abuse of power, or however you want to describe one taking advantage of the other.  The first question often asked afterwards is why does it take so long for someone to step forward in such a situation.  My personal opinion, if you even have to ask the question you probably have not done a great deal of interior work otherwise you’d know the courage it takes to confront the truth of our lives and the stories that make us up and that we become identified with, and more often than not, the negative.  They tell us we’re not good enough.  There’s something wrong with us.  I’m not worthy enough.  Yet, it often takes another person whom we can trust, someone who can love us unconditionally in return, and can help us face the truth of our lives before we can take that step forward and begin to see ourselves as something more.  That’s why it takes so long for someone to come forward because it takes us all a great deal of time to come forward in our own lives and have an encounter with the real.

It is that type of encounter that will change the course of the lives of the disciples as we hear their call this morning in John’s gospel.  As much as it is the call, this week is really a continuation of last week, Epiphany, and the Magi’s own encounter with the real.  As you remember, they have the encounter with the Christ, with truth, with that unconditional love, and their lives are sent in a different direction.  There was no going back.  The same is true for all who have the courage to step out of their own social and cultural norms.  We see what happened to many of the women in the #MeToo movement.  No sooner they come out, especially when it involves politicians or famous people, shame is almost immediately cast upon them.  It is the reality of the disciples being called forth as well today.  It’s why the call of the disciples involves often two leavings.  They leave their families and they leave their work behind, the two places where our own image and identities are thrust upon us and it’s not until the encounter, like the Magi and the disciples, where we begin to see that there’s something more about us and for our lives.  The natural inclination, even for the disciples, will be to try to return to what they had known, only to find that it’s no longer enough and the desire for more will push them forward once again.

When we hear the first reading today from Samuel, we encounter two people who seem to still be trying to step forward in a courageous way and experience God differently.  Even Eli, this wisdom figure, doesn’t seem to understand this call and encounter that Samuel has received.  He too is going to have to let go of his own expectations and who he thought this God was before it begins to make sense.  Samuel, like the disciples, will be called forth with great courage to do what seems to be the impossible, to be that voice of truth, that presence of unconditional love, to speak honestly to Eli and where he has gone astray in his own life, leading to a deeper understanding of God and himself.  So often it’s through that person we trust, that can love us unconditionally, who can be present to us in our story who then lead us to the path of freedom and to become our fullest selves.

Although it may not sound like it, it’s also what Paul is trying to convey to the Corinthian community in today’s second reading.  They are a newly converted community but like most, as it seems to begin to wear off, they want to return to their former way of lives.  He not only speaks of the body, as in ourselves, but that too because some began to look for love and intimacy in the wrong places, seeking encounters not with the Lord but with prostitutes!  Paul challenges them as a community that they must become that encounter for all who have gone astray.  They weren’t to just leave them go off; rather, lead them back to the real, to an encounter once again of unconditional love, to the Lord who gives them life.  It often feels like you’re giving up so much when taking that step forward, over and over again, but in the end we gain everything.  When we have that encounter with the Lord, the direction of our lives are changed and we no longer settle for social norms, cultural norms, and our own past that often holds us back.

As we enter into these weeks of ordinary time, we’ll continue to see that manifestation of that unconditional love in healing stories and forgiveness.  We’ll see it in the encounters Jesus has with people on the way, who’s curiosity is peeked as it was with the disciples today.  Even John knew there was more.  They would leave behind family, political affiliation, religious affiliation as it was with John, to step into and out of something new.  It takes a great deal of courage to face our own past and to become aware of the identities that we cling to in our own lives, running back at times to what gives us comfort, even if it means living in the shame of our hurt as it was with the #metoo movement.  We know it when we have the encounter with the real, with the Christ because like so many who we hear of in Scripture, when it happens, life is changed forever.   They’re never satisfied with the norms anymore and are liberated from their own fear.  We pray for that grace in our own lives, to be cracked open by the invitation to encounter the Lord in a new way, to leave behind our old identities and now seek our identity in Christ.  We encounter that in that presence, in that unconditional love, and the acceptance of the Other, who calls us forth to a fuller way of life and to no longer settle in fear for anything less than more.


The Predictably Unpredictable Master

The parable of the talents is now the second of the three in this chapter of Matthew.  Last week we heard the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and then next week will be the culmination of Jesus’ teaching in this gospel in the judgment of the nations.  It’s the final teaching of Jesus before the real event as to what this all means and what it has to tell them about who this God and who this Jesus really is and what he’s all about.  Like the other two parables this one is filled, like our lives, with many contradictions that are hidden in plain sight.

Our natural inclination, as I’ve said before, is to automatically try to identify who’s who in these parables that Jesus offers us.  It’s almost as if we have to identify roles so we know where we fit and somehow feel comfortable with it, knowing who’s who.  However, that would leave us in a bit of a predicament with calling God the master of the story, considering what we know about the master according to the one who was given one talent.  Even the master makes a pre-judgment about the guy by only giving one, according to his ability.  But this same guy then reveals the identity of the master by telling us that he’s demanding, a lie and a cheat and pretty much leaves them to their own accord by leaving.  Now I can’t necessarily say that’s how I would identify God, and yet, when we rush to judgment and trying fill in the blanks, it’s the God we’re left with.  But maybe that’s Jesus point.

Let’s look at the other two who obviously were very successful in turning the talents into great wealth.  According to our standard today we’re talking millions of dollars, more money than we know what to do with.  They make this money by becoming the likeness of the master and his success which means they too become demanding along with liars and cheats.  It was common knowledge in that time.  Also common thinking, as it often is to this very day, that wealth and this accumulation of it was how they viewed God.  The more I had the more somehow God has blessed me and graced my life, as if grace and blessing can somehow be quantified.  Today we’d call it the prosperity gospel.  The more I have the more God must love me and well, if I don’t it’s probably my own fault.  You see, God is not the master in this sense.  The master is a god but they serve the master of success of wealth and power.  It stands in total contradiction to what they are about to witness about the true Master facing the passion, death, and resurrection.  Yet, we’ve adopted in our own churches serving the wrong master at times.  It may bring us joy, as we hear, but it’s a fleeting joy, not the joy that comes through the true Master, the eternal.

That does, though, leave the third one hanging out there.  Mindful of all we know of Jesus and all the stories we’ve heard from Matthew this year wouldn’t it make sense that he’d be drawn to this final character of the parable.  You can almost imagine him huddled over out of fear seeking the Lord of life.  But the master of success in the parable has already made a judgment about him, just as the Pharisees have done about anyone that has not been somehow blessed by God, by not having.  Here’s a guy who even stands up to the master of success, facing him with a sense of authenticity and courage, humbling confronting the master and just as the Pharisees do, he’s tossed into the darkness.  He comes with nothing and leaves with nothing.  Isn’t that just how our lives are designed?  We always want more and the more is never enough.  Success for the true Master is more about less being more, it’s about coming as we are, with nothing, in humility and with authenticity standing up to the many masters we serve.

That is what’s behind this rather unusual proverb we hear in the first reading.  What the heck does the ideal wife have to do with talents and all the rest in the gospel?  What makes her the ideal is that she’s not there to serve the master in her husband.  Rather, she’s mindful of the true master and does all she does in the name of that Master.  The proverb tells us that she finds all the superficialities as fleeting, charm and beauty are simply joys that will pass.  She keeps her eye on her one God.  She is a woman that fears the Lord in its truest sense, a hope and joy that is eternal and she finds that through serving the true Master, as we’d say, in Christ, through the grace to trust and have a deeper sense of faith that transcends what the world offers her, which at that time was not a great deal.

Paul reminds us through his letter to the Thessalonians today that the moment comes in all of our lives, like a thief in the night, when we’re questioned and when we should begin to question the master that it is that we are serving.  He tells us when it arises in us it’s like labor pains, a painful experience when we are awakened to the reality that we’ve been serving our own master rather than the Master.  It will not only be what master we decide to serve but also what we do with it.  Do we continue to seek fleeting joy and the instant gratification in our lives or do we look for more?  Ironically, when we look for more it’s often less that can fill.  The more we try to fill ourselves with our own masters the more empty we become, lacking meaning and purpose in our lives.

We are now just over a month away from when our lives become all about the “more”.  We’ll need more gifts, cards, parties, stuff to have ourselves a successful Christmas.  Yet, we’ve probably all been in that place, that, when all is said and done we feel empty and unfulfilled.  More often than not it’s because we’ve spent our times serving the wrong master and then we’re faced with the holiday blues.  We pray this day for the grace to become aware or maybe even just to begin to ask ourselves who is the master we serve in our lives.  The master we serve says a lot about the God we choose to serve.  This god of success and prosperity is so tempting in our lives and yet often comes at great cost.  Maybe not in the moment but at some point it happens.  The true Master calls us to a life of humility, faith and trust.  The more we keep our eye and heart on the true Master the more we begin to realize that we don’t need much, that less is often more.  It’s a God of deep mystery that we are invited to fall into, as the ideal wife does in Proverbs, trusting in the promise of the eternal joy that arrives when we finally let go of our own masters and learn to trust the fall into the true Master of our lives, the eternal Christ.


Running Naked

Philippians 2; The Passion According the Mark

Like most artists, Mark finds a way to leave his own mark on his work of art in this gospel we hear from this year, and in particular, this passion narrative. There’s one thing unique if you picked up on it in this account and it happens in the garden. Out of nowhere, a man who has followed, appears in a linen cloth and runs away naked. It is believed that that young man represents not only the gospel writer Mark but each of us. From the beginning the command of Jesus is to “follow me”. Yet, when the going gets tough for the disciples, they scatter in different directions. They can’t handle the pressure. They can’t handle what is being asked of them and rather than passing through the narrow path which we call the Cross, they turn back and run, hide for their lives.

But this man shows us a different way. He has continued to follow but now leaves the garden naked. Seems rather odd that it would even be included in the gospel, other than it being Mark’s own “signature”. What Mark shows us is that if we are to accept the challenge to follow, and to follow through the narrow path, we must do so naked. We must be stripped of all that holds us back, all that’s weighing us down, all our fears and anxieties, anything that stands in the way for it is only Love that sees us through.

Paul tells the same in the second reading from Philippians. There is a transition that takes place from acts of humiliation done upon Jesus to the great act of humility of being hung naked on the cross. So what do we do when we stand before it? Sure, we stand in awe and we worship. On Good Friday we will venerate. But isn’t some of that doing just as the disciples did and even what our culture expects of us; to stop short of falling into the narrow path to life, of facing the great suffering of the Cross? Jesus is asking more of each of us, to not simply stop and gaze but also step into that narrow path, leading to the life that is promised.

As we enter into this Holy Week, we pray for the courage and strength to allow ourselves to enter into it fully. It takes a great deal of our time, a great deal of self-examination, and a great deal of trust to enter into these days. Mark reminds us how to come and approach this Cross. We stand before the Lord naked, in all of our own insecurities and in all our brokenness, grasping all that we have held onto and inviting us to let it go, surrender it into the Great Mystery, and allow ourselves to fall into, with great courage and strength, Love, so that we may be led down and through the narrow path to the fullness of life, a life filled with meaning, that the Lord has promised. Naked we have come forth and naked we will return, but now filled with the hope of Easter Sunday.

Journeying Downward and Outward


Genesis 12: 1-4; Matthew 17: 1-9

While I was doing my train trip two years ago, I had blogged a post entitled, “Faces in the Sand” ( http://www.herodescent.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/faces-in-the-sand ).    I had written it while I was at the monastery in the desert out in New Mexico, literally in the middle of nowhere, twelve miles off the main road down a long dirt road.  I had happened to look up while I was out there and saw what looked like faces in the sand, hence the name of the blog!  In that moment, I had thought about all the people that had gone before me in that location, the desert mothers and fathers that are a part of our faith.  At that time, I felt a sense of peace because it was as if they were all praying for me at that moment to trust and to grow in faith, even if it meant going places that I would rather not go.

I thought of that post when I read this first reading from Genesis and the story of Abraham and Sarah.  Just think about it, their families probably thought they were crazy for what they were about to do in their lives.  Keep in mind that they both well advanced in age, often felt unsettled because at times it seemed as if God had not come through for them, and all of a sudden they are being directed to go out, to leave everything behind in these advanced years of their lives and head out to a new land.  The crazy thing is, they did it.  They left where they were not knowing where they were going and God provided.  God provides them with a son, Isaac, and Sarah literally laughs in God’s face.  Yet, when we leave behind and go out to the distant lands, into the desert of our lives, God somehow reaches us on new levels, trust builds and faith deepens, God provides.  They could take such a leap of faith in their lives because they have done much of the hard work and the journey within.  Up to this point in the book of Genesis it hasn’t been very good news and in comes the call of our father in faith, Abraham, to once again put his trust in God and go out.

For the disciples, who too are so often the faces in the sand for us, it wasn’t about going out to distant lands but rather a journey down, a journey that takes, sometimes, even greater trust and faith.  Abraham and Sarah had life’s experience and wisdom behind them but not so for the disciples.  They are new to this pilgrim journey.  They haven’t yet made the journey down and yet, love the experience of being on top of the mountain.  Peter wants to build tents and stay right where he is, along with James and John.  Imagine, any of us in that position would want the same thing, to stay put where they had just seen the glory of Jesus revealed, all is good in the world at that moment, and not a care in the world.  Yet, Jesus leads them down.  As much as Abraham and Sarah go out on their journey, the disciples, as it is for us in this season of Lent, we journey down into the depths of our beings, so often to the places we’d rather not go.  We know how it proceeds for the disciples as we move towards Palm Sunday and Good Friday when they face head on the evil, darkness, and shadow they face within themselves and it isn’t until they are led to those places, into the muck of life, will they be able to go out like Abraham and Sarah.  It will only be in some of the most trying times of their lives where they will learn to trust and their faith deepen.  When they do, they too will go out, but now a new people knowing truly what their lives are about.

As we pilgrims continue this journey, we come mindful of the centuries of those who have gone before us, the many “faces in the sand” which continue to encourage and strengthen us on our own faith journey and desire to take it seriously.  This Lenten season, for us, is about the journey of the disciples and where Jesus leads them, to the cross.  It will only be in facing the Jerusalem of our own lives where we will grow and deepen in faith and learn to trust God with all our heart and soul.  This is a journey, in many ways, we do alone, but at the same time, together, joined with these centuries of mothers and fathers of faith who lead us down to where we’d rather not go in order to leave what we know and trust the call to go out to distant lands being that faith and trust to all the world.  We pray, this season, for the courage to go and to respond to the call of God to let go and to respond with such conviction as Abraham to the unknown of our lives and world with such deep faith and trust.