Demanding Change

Matthew 17: 1-9

Did you ever wonder about the other nine?  They always seemed to be excluded or left out of some of the best moments in the gospels.  It seems, like today with the Transfiguration, that it’s always Peter, James, and his brother John who get singled out and are given the chance to experience things that the others don’t.  Let’s be real.  The three of them aren’t even the most stellar of candidates to single out.  We know Peter from hearing the stories.  Next week his faith will be tested.  He doubts.  He denies.  He runs away when things get tough.  A little further down this journey the two brothers will be fighting amongst themselves as to who’s the greatest and who should sit at the right and left of the Lord.  More often than not, these three are about power and grabbing for it in ways that never seems to end well.

Even in this gospel that we hear today they are told one thing to do and that’s to keep their mouths shut when they get down to the bottom of the mountain where the other nine are located.  Now, I’m one of six and I can tell you that if three are separated to go experience something that the others don’t, one of two things will happen.  Either they’ll come up quickly to find out what happened since it was a secret or the three will taunt the others that somehow they’re better than because they had something that the others didn’t!  It’s life and it shows where they are at on this journey, still children themselves in faith.  Like most, it won’t be until something is demanded of them before it’s all put to the test and who and what will stand the test of time.

It appears in these instances that Jesus is setting them up to fail, but maybe not fail in the sense that we often understand, but rather setting them up to fall apart and that they will do.  The journey following the transfiguration in the gospels is one on the decline.  Everything has been building to this point and from here on they will go down the mountain literally and figuratively, into Calvary, to the Cross, into their own hearts and souls.  When their lives are demanded of them as the gospels go on, they will fall apart but they have to fall apart in order to once again build community on its true foundation in Christ.  Up to the great test of the cross and their childish faith, not much has been asked of them.  And as we know, even what is asked doesn’t seem to happen, like keeping their mouths shut about these experiences.  It’s about that power that they think they have in their agendas, in their thinking of being better than, in talking about who’s the greatest, probably jealousy and all the rest that we are familiar with in our lives.  Jesus could transfigure all he wants to these three, but at the moment, it doesn’t mean much of anything but can easily be used as an experience to build themselves up.

But the whole event casts a shadow upon them which is when they become fearful.  They become fearful of themselves, more than anything and what this is all going to mean to them as the journey continues.  It’s no wonder why Peter would rather stay here, stay put, because they’ve been given something without having to give anything in return.  Nothing has yet been demanded of them in this journey of faith.  This downward journey of transformation and conversion will eventually push them to change.  We all know that none of us changes easily.  We, like them, are often pushed to the brink, to the cliff, before we will finally surrender and let go, opening ourselves to change and transformation.  It comes, so often, when our own mortality is put on the line before we can finally begin to ask what’s most important, what do we value, what gives us meaning, and quite frankly, what is it that I need to finally let go of in life.

All too often we hold on way to long rather than surrendering to the demand of the gospel to a change of heart, to grow into an adult faith of trust and mystery.  That is what is revealed to them on that mountain in today’s gospel, but for them, not yet.  For them, their center remains outside of them and beyond them and has not yet moved within.  When they are finally confronted with the cross and everything begins to crumble around them, they will be left with the opportunity to mature in their faith and become the disciples the Lord summons them to and quite frankly, promises them from the very beginning.  They will begin to form community around the eternal, around the transfigured Christ.

On this feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, sure, it is about the Lord’s transfiguration before these three would-be disciples, but in the end, it’s about what is going to be demanded of them in their own lives.  If they could stop for a minute, maybe the most important thing that is revealed to them in this shadow is to listen.  If we can learn to listen on a deeper level, beyond all the noise of our lives, the truth and the promise will begin to reveal itself to us.  It will reveal itself to us as individuals but also as community and where it is we need to grow into the promise that is given in this moment.  The day always comes when something is demanded of us and more often than not, it’s giving up what we think has given us life or giving up what we believe has given us life but no longer nourishes and nurtures us.  That’s where true transformation can happen in our lives.  As we listen, what is it we are holding onto in our lives, individually and collectively, that holds us back from the promise.  It is in that space that surrender is being demanded to live a life of faith and trust in the promise shown in the Transfiguration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen

Exodus 17: 3-7; John 4: 5-42

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey makes the point, and I paraphrase, that more often than not we don’t listen to understand the other but rather listen with the intent to reply or react. We have it all figured out, and so often without even knowing it, we predict the end of a conversation or another’s thought based on judgement, our own opinion, or simply the tapes that play over and over in our heads that have already determined the outcome. We don’t listen to understand but rather listen to reply, to react, to the other. Any, in the word of Jesus, life-giving water we may have becomes stagnant in the process. We like predictability. We like certainty. Listening to understand, however, puts us in a place of vulnerability of possibly having to let go of things and change.

That brings us to today’s gospel of the Samaritan Woman. Even that story we can predict where it’s going. We know it and it’s hard to listen to it in a different way, a new way. But that’s also the life of this woman and she likes it that way or at least wants it that way. Even the fact that she arrives at the well at noon. It’s crazy. No one in their right mind would go to the well at that time of day. It’s too hot and it would be grueling. The time for the women to go was early in the morning or at evening, when the sun isn’t so hot. But mindful that she wants the predictability, she already knows all of that and it becomes a way to avoid others, to cut herself off from them and their judgment. You see, she not only has a set of tapes about all of them, she has them about herself. If she avoids them she can avoid that feeling of guilt and shame that she has defined herself by because of her life. Jesus points out that she’s been married several times and is currently in another relationship but not married. She knows it and they do as well.

This time is different, though, because she encounters Jesus. Now even in this case she comes off as rather terse towards him. He too doesn’t belong there so she doesn’t quite know what to do. Her predictable situation now has uncertainty. But she also has a running tape about men and Jews that only complicates the matter and so she’s less than thrilled for this encounter. Our immediate thought often with John’s Gospel, though, is that Jesus is the one that doesn’t listen to understand. He seems to talk past her and there is a great deal of misunderstanding. The tapes are no longer working with him. I’m guessing it’s often the case in our own relationships as to why there is conflict, because there is misunderstanding. But it’s not Jesus that doesn’t understand. It’s me and it’s you; it’s us that don’t understand. He’s not trying to move himself to a deeper understanding he’s trying to move her and us to a deeper place, trying to break through the wall we create for ourselves that cuts us off from others and God’s love and mercy. We think these defense mechanisms are going to somehow protect us from hurt, but they only isolate us more and cut us off from each other and God. Her hurt and pain runs so deep but she begins to show signs of it breaking down. In John’s Gospel this conversion, this transformation is all a process. She begins to doubt. She begins to question. No, not necessarily God because she still hasn’t come to that realization, but certainly the predictability that she has created for herself, the tapes that she runs were beginning to break down.

It’s not just her, though, it’s also the disciples in this passage. They too are confused and rather dumbfounded by the actions of Jesus. Again, it appears that it’s him that doesn’t understand but it’s them. As Jews they too are aware of the judgment and the relationship that they have with Samaritans. As much as she knows it with them, they too know it with her. They aren’t to cross in the way that Jesus is leading them. They ask about food knowing he must be hungry and he speaks about something deep within them, the food that nourishes the heart and soul but they don’t know how to react, to respond. Their tapes as well seem to be getting frayed. When we cut ourselves off from the living water and the food of eternal life, we become stagnant. As Jesus says, you will always want more because you thirst and hunger for something that just isn’t satisfying you. There is a deeper hunger and a deeper thirst that Jesus will try to lead us through these weeks of John’s Gospel. He listens to understand. Can we do the same in return?

Which brings us to the Israelites. If anyone like predictability it was the Israelites. Think about it. These are the people that have just been led to this great liberation, set free from bondage, but almost immediately want to return to what they know. We find comfort in certainty and predictability. It makes us feel safe and gives us something to hold onto in life. But it also dries them up and dries us up. They quickly flee the living water of their own lives and return to grumbling, what they so often do best. They love to complain and see themselves as victims. That’s the tape they play. They, more often than not, do not listen to understand what and where Moses is leading, they listen to reply, to react through their own selfishness and their own small view of the world.

The readings the next few Sundays are going to challenge us in this way and to try to listen to them with fresh ears and hearts. Our natural inclination is to listen with the old tapes, knowing how the story ends and predicting its outcome. We like it that way but it also leads to suffering, isolation, and cutting ourselves off from the living water. We are invited to imagine ourselves sitting at the well with Jesus. The encounter alone breaks down our predictability of the situation and of our lives. He doesn’t listen to reply or to react but rather to understand. Can we do the same? Or better yet, do we want to do the same? Sometimes we just don’t want to change and be transformed. It’s much easier to live in the predictability of our lives, no matter how miserable we may become. Courage, we pray for that courage, to sit with Jesus at the well and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, open, and generous with sharing our story, our hurt and pain that continues to cut us off. He wants so much of and for each of us if we can simply listen to understand, and before you know it, sure, it may lead to doubt and uncertainty in our lives, but if can finally begin to open us to the love and mercy the savior of the world has to offer each of us.

Stop Worrying!

Isaiah 49: 14-15; I Cor 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34

I have to say, one of the most disheartening things that I have seen as a priest are the amount of churchy people that worry about everything and live with so much fear. That’s not to say that there aren’t things that we all worry about and even fear. We certainly all know people who are sick, suffering from cancer, worry about health insurance, jobs, some these days fear being deported, heck, not far from hear many worry about whether they’ll still be alive tomorrow, and the list goes on, but so often it does beg the question that we can glean from today’s gospel, asking us where we put our faith. We can’t come here, in faith, believing that somehow God can transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and somehow can’t lead me to a place of transformation and conversion.

We’ve heard some challenging gospels the past several weeks as we delved deeply into the Beatitudes and the blueprint that Jesus puts forward as what it means to be a disciple and as Christian, in our language today. None of it has been easy and should be challenging us on many levels. However, this message of faith and trust lies at the heart of it all. Bear in mind, we’re not talking about dogma and doctrine. You know, none of that was around in the time of Jesus, but this level of trust as we hear in these readings today that somehow God will provide, despite our worries and fears.

Of course, we also live in a culture and society that is driven by consumerism and capitalistic America. Success means something to us today. However, the more we pursue it, the more it begins to take a toll on us when we begin to realize that we start creating gods and idols that we’d prefer to trust rather than to seek first the kingdom and keep our eye on the bigger picture of life and becoming consumed as consumers. That too begs the question as to where we are putting our faith. Unfortunately, that has even found its way into church and parish life. We want to be a successful parish. We want numbers. We need money. Before you know it, we simply become part of the problem because we begin to live our lives as the world does rather than seeking the kingdom. We become about building a business rather than leading people to faith in the true God who will continue to provide.

The same was true for people Israel whom Isaiah delivers this beautiful message in today’s first reading. He too reminds Israel about this faithful God despite their own unfaithfulness over the years. Think about them building their golden calf and the tower of Babel, thinking that will somehow take them to the God that they desired. It became about building and holding onto things, this god, for them, became about safety and security. It’s all the really wanted, even if it was an illusion of safety and security. But, of course, in time, that too all came crashing down around them and they find themselves in exile over and over again, lost, wandering in the desert, still trying to satisfy the lacking that they felt in their lives. Once again, they had to learn and ask where they were putting their faith and trust and was it really in a God that continued to provide. Sure it’s a scary proposition for us, especially in the face of so much uncertainty and so many realities that seem to scare us and invoke fear these days, but where are we putting our faith.

Paul tells us to seek that faith in the mystery in which we are stewards. It’s not something we own or hold onto, possess, but rather are caretakers of. This mystery, grounded in faith and trust, leads to freedom, where we can let go of the idols and gods that we have come to rely upon and even become addicted to over the course of our lives. His communities, especially Corinth who we have heard about these couple months struggled greatly with what it means to be a people of faith. Every community and person does. It’s the human struggle because we doubt and question, especially in situations where we worry, but as Jesus says, where does it get us.

As we round out this Ordinary Time in the Church and prepare ourselves to enter into a season of transformation and conversion, we must take with us this blueprint that Jesus has laid out before us the past several Sunday’s. They can’t just be left at the door now that we enter another season. Rather, they must continue to challenge us in the society and culture that we live. There is great fear and anxiety in the world and much to worry about. There is no denying that. But with each passing moment we must continue to ask ourselves where are faith lies and what idols do we continue to hold onto despite the disappointment that they often afford us. Is our faith in money? Is it in our success? Is it in what we own? Is it in an institution, including a Church that often disappoints?

Now imagine our lives with those scales falling from our eyes and that when we see bread and wine being transformed, in faith, so are our lives as well. Imagine that! It’s scary to think about it when these false gods have been seemingly so faithful to us despite the worry and fear they often invoke within us. As a matter of fact, it only seems to leave us feeling more short-changed in life. As we close out this time and enter into Lent, we can all do ourselves a favor by asking that simple question, where does our faith and trust lie? If it leads to fear, anxiety, and greater worry, well, it’s not in a God that always provides. Maybe it’s in a god that has kept us safe and secure, but it’s not seeking the kingdom and seeking a God who does faithfully provide.

Silence

For those who venture to enter into Silence, don’t be surprised if you find yourself leaving with more questions than answers about the struggle of faith of the lead, Father Rodrigues. Both him and Father Garupe, young priests with a sense of conviction, find themselves questioning where it is that God is leading them, firmly believing that they are being called to head to Japan, despite the known reality that they are to face of severe persecution, living in constant hiding, and the possibility of death as so many others had to face.

Father Rodrigues is a rather complex character throughout the story, especially in relation to the faith of the Japanese who are willing to go to their death because of their faith. Yet, throughout, on a deeper level, Father Rodrigues has this aching fear of death as he watches them, one by one, marching toward their own. Both Rodrigues and Garupe make this journey, despite the doubt of their superior, in order to seek out their once mentor who was believed to have renounced his faith. Garupe never makes it that far. From the beginning there seems to be an intersection of faith and lived reality for him, a disconnect that often follows Rodrigues throughout. Garupe’s blood will be spilled long before Rodrigues encounters their former mentor.

But for Rodrigues, it’s more than just seeking the mentor who, in his mind, could not have apostatized. For Rodrigues it was about seeking this truth that he becomes angered over many times in his questioning by the Inquisitor. The Inquisitor, who’s about as creepy as you can get, feels him to be arrogant. It may be the one quality of his that the Inquisitor is correct in identifying. That place of arrogance, which stands in the way of him finding the deeper faith, in the form of pride, becomes the place of rub for Rodrigues. He knows the truth, which for him, is a belief that he knows it all and is the bearer of it all, a gap between the intellectual faith and this faith he witnesses in the people, and in Garupe, for that matter, at times only seems to wane. He struggles greatly allowing this penetrating silence to enter into the depths of his heart and soul, to feel the pain and be one with the pain that the people experience.

The simplicity of the faith of the people only makes it a more stark contrast to what it is that Rodrigues seeks and believes. They seem to lack the fear that he has held onto about this God. It’s as if they know something that even he doesn’t know about the Christ, willingly accepting before renouncing. As the story progresses, Rodrigues questions time and again who it is that he’s praying to in the moment. He seems to simply pray to silence without any answers, despite knowing what he knows and questions who this God is. It is this God, or image, that seems to crumble with each persecution and death that Rodrigues witnesses but holds to so tightly. The Japanese believers, on the other hand, question who’s willing and able, living not from a strength that follows pride, but one that follows love.

In the end there seems to be no resolution nor reconciliation with Rodrigues. The look on his face mirrors a man who continues to angst up to the bitter end. In the end he too will have to confront his own demons of surrendering while beginning to know deep in his heart that he had done something wrong. He still hangs on to an image of who this God is supposed to be rather than opening himself to a bigger God, a God that can somehow even embrace a mentor who has disappointed and a friend who has betrayed, while he continued to allow perfection to stand in his way. The fear of the Japanese was that the spread of Christianity would begin to break down the world order that they had experienced and created, opening the door to questioning and revolt. Yet, they never much seemed to fear Rodriques, despite their persistence in persuasion. Maybe deep down they too knew of his own fear and didn’t see him as that same threat as it was for the people. It wasn’t the power of fear that threatened, rather, the power of love; and for Rodrigues, it was his deepest fear and struggled to accept.

Readiness

Acts 5: 12-16; Rev 1: 9-11, 12-13, 17-19; John 20: 19-31

If there is one thing we can take from the Easter readings, not only last week, but today with Thomas as well as next Sunday, it’s that, in order to receive God’s grace, mercy, love, whatever way you want to describe it, there must be a readiness on the part of the disciples and us. Otherwise we simply spend our lives locked, where the disciples are today, in the upper room. We don’t make it easy on God and we’re going to hold on tight often until we’re pushed to the edge. That goes for me, for you, as community, and for the disciples.

They, and we, hold on tight to many things. They’re caught up in fear, even paralyzed by it. They’re questioning and doubting what all of this has meant, if anything, this despite the fact that he has already appeared to them once! They’re caught up in their grief. Their grief is strong in the loss of their friend but also in the way they think. Jesus and the disciples always seemed to live on two different planes. He was out healing, curing, and even raising people from the dead! But they never thought that’s who he was or what they wanted of Jesus or God and so the grief runs deep for them. They thought he should be someone who would be a revolutionary who would overturn the Roman government and someone who should overturn the religious leaders of that time. But he was never that! But they never gave on that false hope that things would be different. That God would and should be different. That Jesus would and should be different.

And so here they are, locked in the upper room, paralyzed by fear and yet, at least the other disciples, knowing something has changed. They’re not only filled with fear but with joy at the same time. The readiness on the part of the disciples is not only for an openness to God’s grace and mercy, but in letting go of what they know and the way they think. The thing is, they will learn that what they think they know about God pales in comparison of what they don’t know, this mystery that they will be led into and beyond and it will change their lives forever. This will take them to places they could never imagine.

Think about it. We hear from John today in the second reading from Revelation landing on Patmos. Who the heck would decide to go to Patmos? It’s not some exotic, vacation destination that we think of when we think of Greece. It’s a rocky island with not much vegetation and life, and yet, his readiness has landed him there. But despite being ready, he still shows us today that it doesn’t take away the fear, the doubt, the questions, and wondering why he listens to God in the first place. He once again finds himself in the ready position, vulnerable and questioning, and God steps in. Like us, he falls back on what he knows and once again is going to have to imagine God in a new way and let of of what was, again. It’s never-ending! But he does and grace and mercy break into John’s life, going places he’d least expect, open to the unknown, and being led to a deeper place within and a deeper love for this never-ending mystery we call God, once crucified and now raised from the dead.

Then there are these disciples. We don’t know how their lives are changed until we get to Acts of the Apostles that we hear from throughout these fifty days. There’s a bit of a gap between the disciples we meet in today’s Gospel and where the story picks up in Acts, just as there often seems to be a gap between the fear and the joy in our own lives, holding on while letting go, what we know and what is yet unknown. By the time we meet them in Acts it’s all changed. It doesn’t mean that they don’t fear or question because they will. It’s how the community grows. But they no longer must be paralyzed by it anymore and with that the community expands and reaches new heights. They bring the sick out into the streets not even to be touched by them but to simply have their shadow fall upon them! They have been changed. They have encountered Christ crucified now raised from the dead, cross the threshold of the upper room to change the world because they first were changed and allowed themselves to be changed. There was a readiness and God stepped into the messiness of it all. God meets them in their fear, their grief, their hurt and darkness, and I suppose, even then pushes them off the cliff to change! Or so it is in my own life.

So before we’re quick to judge Thomas in today’s gospel as we have a tendency to do, we must put ourselves in his place. He and the disciples had expectations and had to let them go. He and the disciples doubted and questioned and yet learned to believe, experienced God in a new way. He and the disciples feared, and rightly so at that time, knowing their lives were at stake, but they accepted love and mercy and they were changed forever. If we’re not ready, then we must pray for a readiness of heart. We must step to the cliff, yeah, maybe look back at all we have known, and yet still step forward and out of the upper room, into this great mystery we celebrate and this great mystery that changes our lives forever. God wants more from us and we must ask if we’re ready. We may still fear and hold on, but the Easter joy and live and love and mercy will win out and we’ll be taken to new places, new experiences, and a new life that can only be possible by God!