Unseen Obstacles

Sirach 27: 30–28:7; Matthew 18: 21-35

When I was out at Notre Dame back in July, I had asked the priest who was kind of leading us through the week what he thought was one of the greatest obstacles we faced as a Church.  Now, I can name many already.  We know there are less priests.  We are certainly aware that there are less people coming.  We also know that there is a lack of trust with all institutions but also a feeling that the institution is out of touch with what’s going on.  Again, the list can go on and on as to what kind of obstacles we face, all of which we can see with our own eyes.  But he wasn’t thinking about what we can see.  He was thinking about something much deeper and so I was taken back when he responded to me.  He said he felt the greatest obstacle we face is resentment.  I got to tell you, it has pushed me to look at my own self and where it may be simmering underneath for me.  We’ve all faced it towards the institution but also with priests and people.  So many examples of how it hasn’t gone as planned or it’s not what we thought it would be or should be.  We have somehow been treated unfairly and we deserved better.  All along as it simmers underneath the surface, resentment.

And, boy, do we as Sirach tells us today, love to cling to it.  I don’t know why we hold on as tightly as we do.  If anything, over time it really acts as a cancer in our lives, feeding on itself, and taking a toll on our hearts.  Now Sirach is speaking specifically to friendships that have gone awry.  This isn’t just something that the Church must face, but we see it in marriages, in families, and in our communities that we’re a part of, simmering underneath as we cling for dear life.  Maybe we tell ourselves that we’ll hold the injustice over the other.  Or somehow it gives me power and domination over the other who has wronged me in some way.  I’m going to dangle it over them, holding a grudge, as if that’s somehow going to bring justice.  Any maybe that’s are problem.  We want justice despite Sirach telling us we even have to forgive our neighbor’s injustice.  Justice without mercy and forgiveness only leads to greater anger and resentment simmering underneath. 

Both Sirach and Matthew write to communities that often faced division.  This who section of Matthew that we’ve been listening to for the past few weeks has been on what it means to be community and the necessary tools for a community to grow.  Today we hear this outlandish parable by Jesus about a servant who was given forgiveness but never quite penetrates his being.  He remains a tyrant and unchanged by the king’s gift.  The servant simply feeds the king a line that he wants to hear, that somehow he’ll repay this outrageous amount of money, knowing full well that it will never come to pass.  He simply reacts to the situation to get what he wants and yet is unable to receive the gift.  How do we know?  See how he immediately goes and reacts to his fellow servant.  He does exactly what Sirach tells us today.  He clings to his sin and begins to choke the guy.  His own anger that simmers underneath gets the best of him, unchanged by the king’s mercy.  Whether we like it or not, it’s our story.  We like to do the same thing.  We’ll play nice to get what we want.  We’ll go along with something even if it upsets us for the sake of keeping “the peace”.  Yet, all along, just as it is with the servant, just below the surface anger is feeding itself on resentment.  It has destroyed relationships and communities alike when we don’t allow it to come to the surface, to the light, in order to be transformed.  We’d not only prefer to cling to it but also transmit it to anyone who happens to set us off at the moment.  The king doesn’t need to send him to the tortures.  We do that to ourselves by holding on.

These two readings provide us two images and leave us with a choice.  Sirach gives us the clinched fist and grinding teeth, holding on to what eats away at us from within.  Then there’s Jesus, the freedom that comes with forgiveness.  The thing about forgiveness, though, and I have said this before, I cannot do it myself and nor can you.  It is truly a grace given to us from God, freely given.  We do not have the ability to forget how we have hurt and have been hurt and so through this grace we are set free from what binds our hearts and what it is we cling to.  The other is this.  There must be a mutuality.  There must be an openness on our part and a receptivity on our part to receive that grace otherwise it simply deflects off of us, unable to penetrate our own hurt.  The servant is the perfect example.  If he were able to receive that grace, that gift from the king, he would have in turn shown mercy to his fellow servant.  When we open ourselves to the grace we in turn give the gift away.  That’s grace.

We all cling to things in our lives, unable to be free.  It may be fear, resentment, anger, so often causing depression in people’s lives.  It can be towards the Church, towards me, towards a spouse, and even towards God when we feel we have been wronged and unjustly treated for whatever reason.  In those moments, though, we are invited into a choice as to what we do with it.  Do we allow it to simmer underneath the surface, creating a wedge between us and the other and God or do we surrender it to the Lord?  It’s hard stuff as individuals and hard stuff as a community to deal with the real issues.  It’s easy to speak about the obvious issues and problems we face as Church and community.  It’s a whole other ballgame to talk about the real issue simmering underneath that prevents us from growing as individuals and as community into the grace of God that is being offered us at this very moment.  Cling or be set free.

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A Full-Hearted Love

Jeremiah 20: 10-13; Romans 5: 12-15; Matt 10: 26-33

When I’m doing weddings, I have all my couples fill out a questionnaire and of course one of the questions is what marriage means for them.  Working with young couples you get used to a lot of idealistic views and expectations that we know aren’t always the reality in our lives, no matter where we find ourselves committed.  The wedding I had yesterday, though, the groom had written something different and I then commented on it at the wedding.  He said something along the lines that it’s about giving 100%.  I’ve met many that enter into this commitment thinking it’s 50-50.  There’s two of us and we’ll somehow make it work.  But those in committed relationships for awhile know it doesn’t work that way.  As a matter of fact, it’s often what ends relationships.  No matter the case, the call is to give yourself 100%, full heart, often to someone or something bigger than yourself, to live the mission given.

I believe it’s the same message we hear from Jeremiah and Jesus in today’s first reading and gospel.  Jeremiah is probably the greatest example we have in Hebrew Scripture of the real struggle of moving to the place of fully committing to what God is asking.  He’s young, naïve, and quite idealistic, and feels as if God has somehow deceived him into this whole gig he’s got as a prophet.  He sees war, destruction, violence, and injustice, and no one wants to listen to him, and just finds himself tormented by the whole thing.  It’s not until Jeremiah begins to make the pivot in his life and see that all the injustice that is going on in the world is also happening within himself and that is preventing him from giving it his all.  He can’t fully commit to this God when his own heart remains divided, holding onto his own illusions and expectations of what it was supposed to be.  He will learn to let go and surrender to love in order to be transformed into this prophetic voice.  He will go on and give thanks to go but only after giving himself the space to struggle, and rub up against his own injustice before he can taste the freedom this God is offering him to send him on this mission.  As Paul tells us today, it’s this grace that will push us through, even when we’re not feeling 100%.  Otherwise, as he says, we’ll hold onto death and sin and our own injustice. 

The same is true for the disciples as they are sent out on mission in today’s gospel.  We jump ahead a few chapters from where we left off in ordinary time in February.  The last we heard was from the Sermon on the Mount but today the message is still practically the same.  The beatitudes end with the message that you will face persecution and today the first line is to fear no one.  Jesus is fully aware of the human condition and what it is that the disciples will face in their own lives and this commitment that they are being called to in life.  At first they are like Jeremiah, young and somewhat idealistic, but eventually the illusions start to fall away and they will find their own commitment being tested.  They will be lured by fear, the threat of losing their own lives, persecution, and great darkness.  They will witness it before their eyes and will be challenged to make the same pivot at Jeremiah to see it within themselves.  If their mission is to be agents of peace and reconciliation and a more just society, they will first have to confront their own illusions and what they hold onto for self-preservation.  Of course, we know that the twelve will move to that place and make that pivot to committing themselves with their whole heart to the mission that is being asked of them.  As we hear from Jeremiah, it’s hard but it the demand of not only the gospel and the committed relationships that we’re in, whether marriage, priesthood, or however we commit ourselves, but also the demand of being a disciple for each of us.

We all know that we can never be 100%.  It’s nearly impossible as humans and the human condition that we are all a part of, but it remains a process that we are invited into in our lives when it comes to not only our relationship with others but with God.  It’s a struggle and something we must wrestle with ourselves, a constant letting go and surrendering to find that 100% within ourselves.  More often than not, whatever we let go of or allow to die wasn’t necessary anyway.  It’s something that has offered us security or even fed into our own fears, our own way of self-preservation.  What are the fears we hold onto, our own ways of preserving ourselves?  What holds us back, knowing full well that the way we see the world around us is the world within us?  Where is the terror and injustice within our own hearts, keeping us from experiencing the freedom necessary to respond to God 100%?    Our mission is to be agents of peace and reconciliation, agents of that grace and love and we do that when we allow ourselves to become just that, especially allowing ourselves to become the love that changes our hearts forever.

Pushed Through

Isaiah 2: 1-5; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr gave what would then be his final speech and sermon in Memphis. It is often referred to as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon and then assassinated the following day. It was often scripture, like the one we hear today from Isaiah about climbing that mountain that inspired such sermons. He used some poetic language in that one along with so many other sermons and prophetic speeches that he had given in his life. One of the images was something along the lines of that it is only in the darkest part of the night that we can truly see the brightest of the stars. For those of us who live in the city that should mean something knowing how much artificial light has a way to swallow up the stars as much as darkness can seem to in our lives. We become reliant on the artificial light that we, at times, begin to believe it’s the true light shining through, almost lulling us into a false trust as we often find ourselves journeying through the darkness.

Now in that speech King was addressing the economic injustices that he so frequently spoke out against, along with racial injustice. Of course, even as a message of hope there were some that could not see beyond their own darkness to embrace a larger heart which will lead to his untimely death. But like the prophetic voices, especially Isaiah whom we will hear from during this season, it was a message of hope that was being delivered. King imagined himself being asked by God as to what period of history he wishes he would have lived. In the end, King said right now. He believed, that despite the darkness of his day, with racial and economic injustices, along with others, that God was trying to break through at this very moment and God was using him to do just that, and to offer hope to people that have become swallowed up by darkness. He does this march through history, beginning with people Israel who knew first hand the plight of suffering and darkness.

Isaiah did as well and this theme of light and darkness will follow us straight through Christmas at this point. Not only have they been led through the darkness of the years wandering in the desert, but also in times of exile, war, famine, and this perpetual moaning to a God who had somehow abandoned them through it all. In the midst of such darkness they begin to despair and lose hope that they will ever get beyond it, or better yet, be able to push through or be pushed through. As it was with King, God grants Isaiah this panoramic vision of life in a time when the people needed it most. Israel once again finds itself at a low point and Isaiah, rather than condemning as can often be done, offers a message of hope, to walk in the light of the Lord, and that, even in their darkest of days, God continued to break through and offer hope to a people that hurt and suffer. Like them, we begin to identify ourselves by our darkness, whatever that darkness may be. We begin to identify ourselves by our sickness, by our cancer. Or we begin to identify ourselves by our unemployment or underemployment. We begin to identify ourselves by our addictions or whatever that darkness may be for each of us. But that darkness is not me and it’s not you.

Paul too continues that theme in today’s second reading to the Roman community. He reminds them to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. For Paul, it was a motivation to be love to one another and to recognize that this journey through life is one that we do together. If someone finds themselves wandering in darkness, they we are there to push them along and not to give up, to encourage. If we don’t, again, that darkness has a way of taking hold of our lives and we lose that panoramic vision of our lives and begin to despair and no longer believe that this God is not only breaking through in our lives but pushing us through that darkness. I’m mindful of the giving tree here as we also help people in need. We also mustn’t fall for this idea that somehow my darkness is worse or not as bad as others. Darkness is real in our lives, no matter what form it takes. Rather, it is a journey we do as one.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the greatest of darkness, this experience of his impending death as King did in his speech. It will be one of the few times we actually hear from Jesus during these weeks. That’s why the message these weeks is to stay awake and to awaken from our slumber. The invitation these weeks is to climb that mountain, as difficult as it can be at times, and continue to allow ourselves to be pushed and not be so quick to give into the darkness of despair. Jesus knew it would not be an easy task for his disciples, but it is one that they must do together. They will quickly scatter but eventually find their way back to one another and push through the darkness of death together in order to be light to others.

This season gives us the invitation to take the journey that so many of the prophetic voices have invited us throughout salvation history, like Isaiah and King, along with Paul and Jesus. We are invited to the journey up this holy mountain of our lives and take a panoramic view of who we are and to ask ourselves where we have allowed darkness to define us. Where have we allowed ourselves to be lulled into believe that this darkness in normal and somehow have become a victim of our own circumstances, even questioning, as Israel did, how God could do this to us? When all along and through it all, God continues to break through. King was right in that it often is in the darkest time of the night that the stars shine the brightest, but it us who are called to be that light. We make this journey together, as one, in darkness and in the light. No, we are not the darkness that often defines us, but it is real. We are called to put on that armor of light and to be that light for all who find themselves climbing that mountain in what often seems as the darkest part of their night.

It Begins With Me

2 Thes 3: 7-12; Luke 21: 5-19

By now I suppose most have had enough of politics. I’ve stayed out of it as much as I can because I believe as a preacher that it’s not my place to tell people how to vote and to take away their freedom to choose. But it’s over now and we now move towards a new reality, not only with a president but with a mayor of this city. I spent some time reflecting and blogging this week, even down to the point of how hard it was up to the point where I was filling in that oval square as to how I would vote. But I also reflected upon who are the losers in all of this. You know, I think the greatest losers in all of this are the two political parties with religious institutions a close third. It gets more and more obvious as to how politics influences religion much more than the other way around. We can tell simply by our reaction to it and we ask ourselves where it is we place our faith.

I thought of the losers coupled up against this gospel we hear today. If you ask me, the major parties as they stand have to lose. They have lost touch with people and in particular people who are truly suffering for a variety of reasons. Jesus makes the point at the beginning of the gospel today about the people that have become distracted by “costly stones and votive offerings”. It’s like the shiny object over here that distracts us from the real issues going on in people’s lives. It’s this facade that both of these parties have projected outwards that distract us and even worse yet, we begin to think that they are identity. I am red or I am blue. But you know what, it simply becomes another way for us to judge and distract. We not only judge by skin color, by sexuality, by religion, we can now judge by the color of our vote and because one votes one way I am somehow better than. We can keep going down this road, but the parties are going to destroy us as they continue to divide and even manipulate in a way that benefits them. Yet, all along, there’s war, famine, poverty, destruction, and great suffering going on over here being ignored.

We cannot keep dividing ourselves in these ways that continues to separate. Even the way we look at poverty. Sure there is great poverty in this city of Baltimore alone, but we even make judgements about that. We think somehow our poverty is greater than the poverty in rural America and we cast judgments upon them. You don’t need to drive very far to see it all around us. So yes, our politics has influenced our religion much more than the other way around because we’re called to something more and we hear that from Paul this morning in our second reading. He understands quite well in these communities how there can be divisions. He would understand our reds and blues. But Paul makes a point to lead people to their deeper identity, that there is something more than the color of my vote, there is the very fact that we are to model Christ, and Christ crucified at that. That is who we really are despite what these parties want to tell us. They want to convince that we are these parties and our lives depend on it. You know what, Christ crucified. That’s who we are and no one can tell us otherwise.

Of course, people even ask what Pope Francis has to say. He says he’ll certainly pray for the president but he says what matters most is what’s happening with the poor, the migrant, the immigrant, and the list goes on. We must continue to work for peace and justice but not because red or blue tells us to but rather because our faith demands it of us. However, in order to do that we must begin with ourselves. If we want peace we must first find it within ourselves. If we want to work for justice, we must first work to identity the injustice of our own lives, that’s me and you. I have judgements, I have stereotypes, I have all this going on in myself and I get easily distracted by the shiny object just as much as the rest, but this is a time to come back to center and come back to our truest identity. We cannot become what it is we hate. We cannot continue to blame others for the problems of the world. We must first begin with us, with me and with you. I must recognize my own injustice and my participation in the injustice of the world before I can begin to bring about justice in the world. We are more than all of it. If we want to be love and forgiveness and mercy, we must reconnect with our deepest identity in Christ and detach ourselves from our attachment to red and blue. It will destroy us because it’s not even real and we know deep down that we are more than it all.

This is a time of reflection for all of us, individually and collectively, to ask ourselves where we have become distracted and attached ourselves to something other than we really are and move towards oneness. We have to stop believing that we are this facade when we know deep down we are something much more. As Jesus says, it will all pass anyway. There’s no point holding onto it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It never is to let go of something we believe to be our identity. He speaks about how it does turn family and against family and against friend. But we must keep our eye on all who are suffering, including those beyond the bubbles we live in. We must keep our eye on the poor, the suffering, the fearful, the hurting, all suffering from famine. We don’t like to keep our eyes there and would prefer to be distracted, but that’s where we find our truest selves in Christ crucified and it is Christ that we are called to model to the world. We work for peace and we work for justice, but let it first begin with me.

The Beginning and the End

The Passion According to John

It’s a rather unusual day. Yes it is Good Friday but maybe somewhat providential, if you follow the Church calendar March 25th is actually the day that we normally celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. It rarely happens that the two coincide and won’t happen again for decades, but here we are today. Of course, that feast gets pushed back until after Easter but there are striking similarities as we mark Good Friday. It’s the day that the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, converge into this one event. But there is more. The one that remains consistent through the story is Mary. The angel Gabriel appears and announces the news of the Christ, tells her not to fear, behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word. All of that, along with the basic human reactions with fear, that of doubt and questioning what this message is all about.

Then there’s today, Good Friday, and we meet Mary at the foot of the cross. What the heck was that message from Gabriel all about? Is this really what God had planned for His Son? Probably much of what Mary had experienced at the beginning she now encounters at the end, questioning God’s plan and wondering what all of this can mean. It’s easy to say that she knew. She was with him through it all and the disciples were there to follow and heard the stories and the predictions. But, in our deepest grief and loss, none of that seems to matter. All we know is pain and rejection in that moment.

But then there’s also Jesus. How the heck did he get to this point? He too questions from the Garden to the Cross what all of this means and whether it’s necessary in this way. We all know that he didn’t do anything wrong. Even Pilate claims him not to be a criminal. Yet, there he hangs, before his mother, watching in disbelief of the horrific way he is to die. But he seems to have backed everyone into a corner. No one wants to take responsibility. No one wants blood on their hands because they know there’d be an all out revolt among the people. John tells us that Jesus simply is here to testify to the truth. And yet, for those in authority in these institutions, Pilate and the political authority and the Chief Priests and Pharisees want to bear no responsibility for what is to unfold. He becomes a victim of their own game and they manage to turn the people against him. Death is looming. Grief is stricken. The end is beginning for this man, Jesus.

There are many theories as to why this all happens in this way. We’ve heard them all and have come to believe many of them. Sure, there is dying for our sins and setting us free from sin and death. That is all true and part of the truth. But like Pilate and the Pharisees, we also like to end it there, bearing no responsibility for following him all the way, only to find ourselves falling short when we get to the cross. For Mary and the disciples, the message that has been consistent all along has been to follow him. That’s it! And yet, when we become overwhelmed by the darkness of our lives, our inclination is to be like the disciples at this point. We fall back to what we know and we seek to please, going along with the crowd yelling, crucify him! All seems lost. Darkness hangs in the balance now. Mary, may it be done to me, now stands by idly, watching her son die. It can’t be easy. His pain is her pain and her pain is his. Every parent knows what that is like as you watch your sons and daughters suffer in different ways. Is it any wonder we turn away and try, and that’s all we can do, is try to return to a normal life. But normal life is no longer.

It is the beginning and the end. Despite the pain and hardship, Mary and Jesus remain faithful to that command of turning it over to the Father. May it be done to me. And maybe that’s the point. None of us would ever choose to do it ourselves, but rather, only by the grace of God I shall go, not coming up short, but all the way to the cross. It’s so hard to see beyond that threshold that it creates for us. We become victims of our own hurt and suffering that when we’re in that moment, we lose sight of the light and the life that is promised us. Then more than ever is faith necessary and to reconnect to our larger story, the story of the Passover, the story of the great Paschal Mystery. As generations pass it’s easy to disconnect from the lived reality, yet, it is the only way to persevere as we stand at the foot of the cross with Mary, reminded, in faith, of the life to come.

There is something different about this day. It is the beginning and the end, as well as the beginning of the end as we face yet another threshold before us. We imagine ourselves at the foot of the cross with Mary, silently uttering her prayer and the prayer of Jesus, may it be done to me according to your will, not my will but your will be done. In a world plagued by injustice and abuse of power, it truly is only the truth that will set us free, even in the face of such suffering. God suffers with us this day and weaps with us as we continue to try to back God into a corner to do something, anything, so that like Pilate and the Chief Priests, we can stand idly by watching the suffering of our world, not wanting blood on our hands. Yet, we already do when love and mercy escapes us. It is the challenge of Good Friday and an even greater challenge when the beginning and the end converge on this day. All we can do is stand with Mary and pray with Mary that God’s will be done and that my life too may testify to this truth, that, in the end, love and mercy will always endure.

The Injustice of My Own Heart

Deut 26: 4-10; Luke 4: 1-13

I say it every year as a good reminder, that this gospel reminds us how careful we should be about using Scripture against someone knowing that the devil knows scripture and uses scripture as well as anyone. We can never forget that point. The readings this weekend, though, point us to one reality and that is that there is one God and that it’s not me and it’s not you but we struggle with a daily temptation thinking otherwise. Like most things, we have a way of even making the temptations into something superficial. We limit it often to what we can see, of the flesh, habits we must break, but we never move to the deeper questions that ask why I’m so easily tempted and from where within me do they arise, often these crazy desires that we sometimes face and, rather easily, submit to in our lives. There can be a lot of truth in the statement that the devil made me do it. Of course, as long as we accept that the devil is within me.

But the temptations that Jesus seems to face in today’s gospel don’t sound like anything that we encounter and so can come off as being disconnected from our own humanity. But his temptations go beyond what he can see with his eyes, even though the devil shows him in that way. Let’s recall how the story unfolds because it is the Spirit that leads Jesus out into the desert. Of course, the desert has great meaning to the people as they recall the events of the exodus in the first reading today. The desert becomes that most vulnerable place within, where we are somewhat in limbo and experiencing great vulnerability. We know what it’s like. There’s not much life, or so it seems. It’s hot and can be quite cold. It would make any of us uneasy. But it is precisely in this God-sized hole, our own interior desert, that the Spirit also tries to lead us, to our own place of vulnerability, to a deeper hunger that reveals the depths of the temptations in our own lives.

But it’s the place we’d rather not go. We like Lent the way it is, on the surface and making some little changes in my life knowing I can always go back to it come Easter, a temporary respite. Any of us can do something for forty days. But that’s not the point. I had mentioned yesterday that the Lent we are called to and the fast that we are called to is much more radical, a fast that the prophetic voices preach and lose their lives for. What we are called to fast from and change is from the injustices that happen around us all the time and our participation in the injustices. On a deeper level, there is greed. On a deeper level, there is safety. On a deeper level, within this God-sized hole, there is all this activity that catapults our world into war and famine and how easy it is to turn a blind eye to it all, actively participating so often by doing nothing. Worse yet, we have often made virtues out of some of them, such as greed, that we become so blinded by it that we consciously give into it because we’ve decided it’s something good. How blind we can become and how easily we can be swayed into believing something is not true, all in the name of virtue, happening in the world and Church. We can never call out big money lest we be called out, nor can we say anything against war. Oh, how much easier it is to keep Lent on the surface and never examining where these desires come from and why we are led to such blindness.

But there is that deeper hunger within and that Jesus experiences after forty days in the desert. Again, it’s paramount the experience in the desert. We hear that recounting of the exodus from Deuteronomy today. They too fell into that trap, people Israel, in thinking that they can be god. They buy into the lie that they can do it alone, despite being up against such opposition in facing the same realities in their lives that we do in war and famine, abuse of power and willing it over others. Gradually they too had to be led to that same place, to their own vulnerability and a confrontation with their own inner hunger before they can surrender themselves over to the one true God, the one that leads from death to life.

The Spirit not only leads Jesus to the desert. That same Spirit will lead Jesus to the Garden which we will hear on Palm Sunday. It’s the same Spirit that leads him to the Cross, the most vulnerable and humiliating of places for anyone, including Jesus, only to hand himself over, not only to the hands of the authorities but to hand his life over to the Supreme Authority in God. The temptations Jesus faces in the desert are central to our own lives but we must be willing to go to the same place and allow the Spirit to lead. The only way we change and seek conversion in our lives is to go to that place, below the surface of our superficial temptations that we’ve vowed to give up for at least forty days, and to go to the place of injustice. It’s not just the injustice out there. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that I must confront. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that needs change and conversion.

As we enter into this season we pray for the Spirit to lead us where it wills, in particular, to the place of vulnerability, to the God-sized hole within that we try to fill. It never works and deep down we know it, but the temptation to be God is also very real and convinces us as it tries Jesus that we’re something and someone that we are not. There is but one God and it is that one God that changes hearts and souls to be more like Him. We pray this is a time to fast from injustice, to feel and experience the Cross within, so that we too may be transformed into a new life, a life we have been created for in serving the one true God in this world and to build up not our own kingdom, but the Kingdom of that God.

Crying out for Comfort

Isaiah 40: 1-5; 9-11; Mark 1: 1-8

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” What beautiful words from Isaiah today; a message of hope and comfort to a people onto the other side of exile. But four or five times today there is also another message that repeats itself from both Isaiah and in Mark’s Gospel, “a voice cries out…” All any of us needs to do is turn on the news these days and you can’t help but wonder about that voice that cries out for comfort and strength. We hear the cries of injustice, inequality, poverty, oppression, and it doesn’t seem to go away. As a matter of fact, that voice crying out seems to get louder and louder by the day.

Now we, as humans, may never agree on the details of all of it. Whether it’s right or wrong, truth or not, or whatever the case, but that’s because the media and we as humans like to keep it on the surface and never really deal with the issues that lie beneath the surface of inequality, poverty, oppression, injustices that we witness. We see divisiveness. We hear hatred and fear being spewed. Someone out there just kicks back and watches it unfold, but it isn’t the God of comfort and strength. There is one thing we can agree on, though, that can possibly be the common ground that is needed to address institutions and systems that are dysfunctional at best. Can we all begin with the premise, as it was for people Israel, that there is a great deal of hurt and suffering in the world, on every side of every argument. Pope Francis has spoken of this regularly about the violence that ensues in our world. The more people hurt and are suffering, the more inequality and injustice is prevalent, people will react and quite honestly, in violent ways. We all do it. Yet, the prayer of Isaiah remains our prayer these days, comfort, give comfort to my people.

People Israel knew the realities of inequality and injustice probably more than most people’s in history. They find themselves at the moment when exile begins to end but a time to reflect upon how they have suffered and the pain that they have experienced in their lives. It was violence beyond our imagination. People crying out for a God to be with and to be present and yet, so often felt unfound in the midst of such atrocity. But they aren’t the only ones that know and knew exile. It’s our story as well. In this life we all find ourselves in exile trying to make our way and return to God within today and in the end times. Exile is a part of us and because of that, so too is violence. As much as we’ve seen enough and experienced enough in our lives, it’s not until we can begin to let go of our own judgments, our own hatreds, our own hurts and pains, seeking healing and forgiveness, can we move from violence to love. And so the choice is ours, do we give stones or bread? Do we give violence or forgiveness? Do we give love or fear and hatred? The choice is ours over and over again.

We will hear both this week and next from John the Baptist who preaches the message of repentance. This isn’t just about going to confession and seeking forgiveness of our sins, although that’s important as well. It’s about a total change of our lives, our perspectives on life, the lens by which we see one another. The people still knew of injustice and inequality at his time. They still knew poverty and oppression as we do today. They are realities. But God did something different. It was no longer going out there somewhere to find this God who offers comfort. Our God came and comes to us, in this moment. And maybe the craziest thing of all, it’s exactly in our own poverty that God wants to meet and encounter us to bring about healing and comfort.

We see so much violence, participate in it, act upon it, not always out of what it seems or appears, but about something much deeper that goes on within us. It is the voice that cries out within that we so often want to quiet and that many others want to quiet because it speaks of change; it speaks of the realities of violence that plague our relationships and our lives. In the desert of our hearts and souls, we hurt and we ache; we suffer and experience pain. Not just somewhere beyond our borders, but here in these pews and in these streets; it’s here and it can be the place that unites us rather than divide, under and within the wounds of our God who humbled himself to come into our own broken humanity. If it is divisive, then it is not from God; God unites!Not to bring about more violence, hatred, and deep-rooted fear, but to offer us healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness for all that we hold onto and has defined our lives in the exile we often create for ourselves, by what we do and say and by our own fragility as humans, as brothers and sisters. As we continue this journey through Advent allow the prayer of Isaiah to be our prayer today and beyond, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, Lord.”