Confronting Our Wild Beasts

Gen 9: 8-15; 1PT 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15

On this First Sunday of Lent we encounter some rather extreme weather, not unlike what we have been experiencing here this past week or so. We go from the floods that Noah and his Ark encountered to the dry, desert heat of Jesus. In both cases, driven to these places of testing. Noah gets driven, in the midst of a fallen humanity in the Book of Genesis, into an Ark to be tested by the great floods and all the wild animals. Jesus, on the other hand, driven to the desert, by none other than the Spirit, to be tested by the devil. It’s hard not to imagine, if we were in these situations, that the thought of giving up did not cross their mind, in being pushed to such limits. I don’t even think we’d slight them if they did because we’d question whether we had the strength and perseverance to do what they had done.

Yet, much of this journey through Lent is an invitation to be driven by that same Spirit into the dry and barren places of our own souls or possibly in the midst of a great storm, as it is with Noah and all who were aboard the Ark. Can you imagine what it must have been like on that Ark for all that time and with all the animals and every living creature aboard? It becomes a place of great testing for him as it would be for us. Maybe an opportunity to encounter our fears? How about the chance to face our anxieties? All of this swirling around in the life of Noah as he spends this time aboard and within the Ark. It will be some time before he and all the inhabitants can come out of the Ark, but not before these great testings, sufferings, fears, and so much more. Yet, today we find God, with Noah, establishing a covenant with all of creation, that no matter what is faced, not even the largest of floods, God will remain true and faithful to His people. Not that they will believe that throughout salvation history, but over and over again, God will show His faithfulness to His people in the midst of their lives, including the most turbulent of times and when we too face our own wild beasts.

Now we hear the temptations of Jesus on the first Sunday of Lent every year. This year, though, in the Gospel of Mark, we encounter the shortest of the three. There seems to be no indication as in the Gospel of specific temptations other than Mark telling us that Jesus had been tempted, even among wild beasts. This too is that invitation. That, before we can go out and live the will of God faithfully, we are driven into those barren places in our souls, to, at times, even agonize over the pains that are carried within before they can be set free and like Noah, called out to live that life that God has placed within. Jesus goes out, has to face the wild beasts of the desert and the devil, and, being fully human, even the wild beasts that we wrestle with within us before he can go forward to Galilee to proclaim the Gospel of God, as we heard on Ash Wednesday and today, “repent and believe in the gospel”.

Over these coming weeks, we are invited to go deeper into this journey and to follow in the way of Jesus. The path to the Cross was not just his, it’s one that he invites all of us into as well. It will be this journey and flow from within to going out, a continuous conversion of heart and mind, to be set free of our own wild beasts that hold us down and hold us back from living life to its fullest. Or as St. Peter, to confront the spirits imprisoned within us. At one time or another in our lives, we must face that Cross head on and all that comes with it, reminded and mindful that God will see us through it. No matter how barren the desert and no matter how large the storm, in these weeks the Lord invites us to go forward, go deeper, into those places within our souls and allow them to be healed and set free so we too may come out, fulfilled and on fire to serve the Lord, but now from within.

All too often, as it is in Scripture, we must be driven to those places within; we can’t do it ourselves. We’ll avoid them. We’ll try to fix them. When in reality, it’s healing that changes. It’s letting go that changes. It’s, as Noah and Jesus did faithfully, it is surrendering that changes the hearts and minds. Sometimes we must be pushed there; God knows we won’t go on our own. But once we do, faith becomes a reality, the covenant that God makes becomes a reality, reconciliation, forgiveness, healing of our own wild beasts become the reality. We are truly set free from all that binds into the hands of God, into the will of God waiting to raise all that has died. It is the journey that we enter into as we too journey this season to the Cross of Calvary.

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Heart of the Community

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

There may be no better time than this weekend to recall that quote that says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” As we celebrate Pentecost and the closing of the Easter Season, it is today that we celebrate and rejoice in that power that comes down upon and dwells within the life and community of disciples and among us. Yet, of the Three Persons of the Trinity, a community in and of Itself, the one we mark today, the Spirit, is probably the most misunderstood. Maybe it’s because we can’t see the Spirit within. Maybe we truly do fear that power of the Spirit that even allows us to be beyond measure. Maybe, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we just don’t trust it.

Today, though, we celebrate that sending of the Spirit onto those disciples in that locked room on that Easter day. How comfortable we can become in the confines of that locked, upper room, the upper room of our heads where fear, anxiety, and the need to control have a tendency to take over, leaving us with doubt that life can be anything different. And yet, this Spirit comes upon them pushing and nudging them out of the confines of this locked, upper room into the far reaches of their hearts, where the fire of God’s love and mystery reside and ever so gently tries to direct our lives as it did that early community.

Their vision, as we have heard throughout this season from Acts of the Apostles is to become the heart of the community, which is why they face so much resistance from the leaders, who tended to rule with fear and control. Just as it was for them, even our vision statement here at the parish is the same as that early community, “to become the heart of the community.” It was no easy task in Acts and we hear the many growing pains throughout this season. The more they learned to trust that Spirit working among and within them, the more the community began to grow and change and come alive. As time goes on that vision begins to unfold for that community as it does for us.

Of course Paul was a part of those original journeys and he took that vision with him to the many different communities he visited, including Corinth whom he writes to in today’s second reading. Paul saw the immense power that this community had, and yet, like us at times, those gifts were often used against rather than for the good of the greater community. They saw gifts from a hierarchical perspective but Paul sees all the gifts as necessary when they are directed outward to the common good. He believed in that vision of becoming the heart of the community and desired it for the people he encountered.

But we still have these disciples locked in the upper room in today’s Gospel which we also heard on the Second Sunday of Easter. Here they are as Jesus breathes life among them and into them by the sending of the Spirit. They are left with a choice as we so often are, remaining locked and bound in the confines of fear, anxiety, and control, or to forgive, to let go, to live from the immense power that exists within each and truly become the heart to all people, accomplishing the mighty acts of God. Yes, it may be a painful experience allowing that Spirit in, but until we do, this great mystery will continue to nudge and push us along, not to squash that great power in our own insecurity and what we believe to be our inadequacy, but rather to break in and set us free to live a different life, to live a life moved by the Spirit.

As we celebrate this great feast of our faith, we pray today for that Spirit to continue as it did 2000 years ago to come down upon us and within, nudging us out of the locked, upper room of fear and anxiety, to a life, that at first may seem “out of control”, but nonetheless, a life being lived from that power so that we too may live with mystery, out of the confines of our fabricated worlds, driven out by the Spirit to truly become the heart of the community and participating in those mighty acts of God!

Guardian and Shepherd of Souls

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There is probably no greater beloved image of God in Scripture than that of the Shepherd. There is a tenderness that comes with that image like none other. We hear it in the Psalm today as well as the Second Reading, and then, of course, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd in this section of John’s Gospel. But to truly understand the voice recognition that Jesus speaks of, we have to look at it in the context of it’s larger picture and what comes before, and that too, is a passage most are familiar with and one we heard a few months back.

Remember that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. John even says that they don’t understand what he’s talking about when he speaks of this parable of the Good Shepherd. Just prior to this is the story of the man born blind that we heard on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. In that passage the pharisees put everyone on trial because of the healing that has taken place. There issue with it happening on the Sabbath, they question the sin of the man and the parents and what had caused his ailment. Then Jesus comes along and speaks of a different voice, the voice of the Shepherd, which they don’t understand.

Let me try to put it this way. We all have the voice of the Pharisee within us. It’s that critical voice towards us and others. It’s the judgmental voice towards me and others. It’s the voice where nothing is ever good enough. That’s how the Pharisees often come off when we encounter them in these stories. When you think you’ve done it all, there just one more thing that needs to be done in order to somehow earn God’s love and salvation. It’s never enough! We become so accustomed to that voice that we start to trust it and start to believe that it is God speaking within us. Jesus says otherwise; there is another voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Peter tries to make that case as well to his audience in the second reading who happen to be Christian slaves. They have found that voice within and have grown to trust it, however, their external circumstances say quite the contrary. They have experienced this great freedom within and yet they are anything but in life’s circumstances. Peter tries to send a message to them to continue to trust the guardian and shepherd of souls and you will no longer suffer in vain but will find meaning in it. Such a beautiful image that he gives us and to return to, the guardian and shepherd of our souls. Once it is found and redeemed, nothing can harm, even for those who are enslaved as he writes.

The more we grow in trust of that voice of the Good Shepherd, the more the other voices begin to fall away. That is the way through the narrow gate and the way to the fullness of life that Jesus speaks in today’s gospel. Even that voice of the Pharisee within is being led to the narrow gate to be invited into life. It is the gate to being redeemed. As we gather on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray that we may continue to grow in trust of that voice of the Shepherd within us and to let all else be redeemed. The more we trust, the more we will step through that gate, the gate that swings in and through and with love.

Modeling and Becoming Love

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John 13: 1-15

John begins his Gospel with the “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Some scripture scholars would say that this passage we hear tonight and are quite familiar with, the washing of the disciples feet, is the turning point in the gospel and the consummation of that Word becoming flesh and dwelling among them, as he takes off his outer garments, kneels down, and washes the disciples feet. In that one act of love, Jesus consummates the relationship with his disciples and when who he is and what he is about comes together in John’s Gospel. We heard the beginnings of that from Saint Paul on Palm Sunday in his letter to the Philippians, in his beautiful canticle…emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself. Takes off his garments, kneels down, washes the feet of the disciples.

It leaves them quite uncomfortable and bewildered by Jesus’ actions. They don’t know what to make of it and why he would do such a thing, which is why Peter questions. They’re left feeling uncomfortable because they come with certain expectations. Certainly in John’s Gospel, as we will hear tomorrow from that Passion reading, there is a much more kingly approach to Jesus and so watching him in this act of love, even though they don’t see it as that, leaves Peter and the others wondering. Why would this “king” do something beneath them? The status that they expect of Jesus doesn’t match the act of love being modeled and given. They can’t receive the love being given by Jesus. Yet, the very act pushes them to their limits and Jesus gets there where they need to be, on the edge, uncomfortable, where God does some of his best work at bringing about conversion in our hearts, where the Word made flesh breaks in and acts in ways that so often leave us feeling bewildered and wondering.

On these days we enter into, we are often invited into uncomfortable experiences of ritual that often leave us questioning in the same way and can we receive the outpouring of love that is being given to us. We are invited into seeing ourselves having our feet washed. Taking off his outer garments, kneeling down, washing our feet. We are invited into the stripping of the altar, often leaving us uncomfortable because it stretches us from the norm and we’re pushed to look at things differently. Jesus takes off his garments and the altar is stripped to nothing. Taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself, vulnerable before his disciples inviting them to do and be the same.

If you find yourself being pushed this evening and throughout these experiences of some of the most sacred rituals the next couple of days, stay with that. It’s where God wants to meet us. It’s where God does great work. It’s where God consummates the relationship with us, breaking in as Word made flesh, stripping himself of all, vulnerable, humble, conversion happening in ways beyond understanding. I have washed your feet; you ought to wash one another’s. When we allow ourselves to be pushed to that place of vulnerability in our lives, we become the love that is given. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Come Out!

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John 11: 1-45

All movement in today’s gospel is towards the tomb. Every word and action of Jesus is moving everyone in that direction. In many ways, to learn to die before they encounter the great death. Lazarus is obviously already there, bound now for four days, surely there will be a stench. Yet, the lesson is for everyone else that Jesus encounters on this journey to Bethany. Before they can encounter the fullness of life, they too must go where Lazarus has gone, led by Jesus to where none of them want to go but need to go. It provides us the opportunity to put ourselves in place of some of people Jesus encounters and what it is that needs to die.

Certainly the Jews, the scribes and Pharisees, are a continuous part of the journey. Jesus too is trying to inch them towards the tomb. For them I see that it is resistance that they need to let go of and die. As time goes on the resistance deep within them continues to build and grow ever more resentful of Jesus. They don’t like what he has to say and certainly don’t like what he is doing. It is causing a deep restlessness within them. Now when they see the tomb they take it at face value. They see death, despair, hopelessness. Despite being led by Jesus, they won’t go there. They don’t want to change. They know what they know and it gives them perceived power over others. Rather than embracing the tomb as a place of transformation, they will in turn act out of their insecurity and restlessness and bring about the death of Jesus, projecting their own pain onto him. Where is the resistance in my own life? Where am I resisting change and letting go? Where do I see despair and hopelessness in my life? So often it’s our judgments, minds, our egos that stand in the way and cause us to dig in our heels. Where is the Pharisee in me resisting letting go and experiencing life?

Then there’s Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters. Martha has one motive in mind, the return of her brother and being bothered that Jesus wasn’t there to stop it. But again, all his words and actions are leading them to the tomb, where they don’t want to go, which somewhat explains this two day wait that he takes before heading to Bethany. Martha too needs to go where her brother has gone. Yes, she believes to a point, but doesn’t know in totality who this Jesus is. She just wants her brother back and she knows that Jesus has some tricks up his sleeve to pull it off. I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus says. Martha will come to believe but for a different reason. How often have we just wanted God to bring back a loved one after the experience death? Jesus will lead Martha to the tomb of her brother, where she has avoided, to come to understand just who Jesus is. Where in my life to I avoid grieving? Where do I cling to what no longer is? Where is the Martha in me being led by Jesus to the tomb, the cave of transformation?

And yes, Mary. The one who believes. The one who falls to the feet of the Lord. The one who has anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Mary, the believer. Yet, for some reason Jesus moves and nudges her to the tomb as well. How will Mary react? All the negative voices of the leaders and doubters continue to grow and it begins to impact Mary’s belief. You don’t need to go there. This is crazy; what does this Jesus know about life and death? This is a place of despair. And Mary begins to doubt and question. Mary too needs to let go and die before she dies. And Jesus wept. Jesus weeps for all of humanity. He understands the human dilemma of dealing and experiencing death. Yet, as he does for all these characters he does for us, he nudges us to the places of resistance in our lives, where we do not want to go in order to bring about life. Where have I doubted? What about me do I believe God can never love that leads to doubt and despair? Where have I given into the negativity of life, that as God nudges me to those places in my life, I turn away out of fear, not wanting to go?



Yet, Jesus nudges us along to where Lazarus is. Lazarus has gotten it right. But as much as God continues to lead us to that tomb before we experience the great death, if we move with faith and trust rather than fear, we too hear, as Lazarus does, come out! Come out, unbind us and set us free! Yes, God will move us to that place of resistance and is there every step of the way, but he is also the gentle voice that calls us out to freedom.  It is God that allows us to see not as man sees but as God sees, that the tomb is not a place of hopelessness and despair, but a place of change and growth and life.  Yes, death happens but in turn life follows. Imagine those words being proclaimed to you today…come out!! Unbind and be set free from death to fullness of life!

The Presentation

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Luke 2: 22-40

A few weeks ago on the Pope’s Twitter feed there was a quote, “No elderly person should be like an “exile” in our families.  The elderly are a treasure for our society.”  He has spoken of the throw-away culture that we live in, and for many elderly, they are seen as no longer contributing or producing in the way we have become accustom.  Yet, he recognizes a greater gift in many of them as wisdom figures.  They are beyond the “producing” stage of life and now act as guides and as these wisdom figures to many of us, not because of any knowledge they may have, but lived experience, humility, learning to let go of so much, including judgement and expectation, and most importantly, they have never finished growing.  They keep on growing into themselves and into the mystery of God well beyond their years of being “producers” in our society.

Nowhere is that more true in the Gospels than in the stories that bookend the Christmas story.  Prior to the birth of Christ we hear the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, both well beyond child-bearing years and yet over years of learning to let go and surrendering to God, stand humbly by as God delivers a miracle into their lives.  It leaves Zechariah speechless, still, at his age, unable to fully trust God and given yet another opportunity to grow in faith and trust.  These two figures act as wisdom figures for Mary and Joseph as they learn to trust that same impossible message of life that has been given to them in giving birth to Jesus.

Then there’s the other end of the story that we hear today.  The story of Simeon and the prophetess Anna that we just heard in today’s Gospel.  The story of the Holy Family is cradled in between these two stories and now Simeon and Anna will lead them out of this stage in life to where God leads next.  The message of Simeon is two-fold.  Simeon is first overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift revealed to him in the Christ.  He has awaited many years of his life in a world that has lost hope in the coming of the Messiah and has turned in many different directions looking for answers and certainty in life, and yet, Simeon, and Anna for that matter, simply wait.  Learning to let go, over and over again, of their own expectations of the Messiah and then find themselves overwhelmed with gratitude, to the point where Simeon delivers this beautiful prayer that God may now take him from this world and pass on; the great gift has been revealed before his very eyes and in his heart and soul.

The other side of the message is directed towards Mary and Joseph and probably not one that they had intended to hear.  What young parents want to hear that this is going to be a difficult road ahead.  Just because you have seen the Messiah does not mean that all will go as planned without any pain or hurt.  Simeon tells them just the opposite.  This child will be a sign that will be contradicted, destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.  Like us, Mary and Joseph had expectations of their son.  Could they ever anticipated their son would be hung on a cross?  Even in the following passage as they make their way from Jerusalem, Jesus is nowhere to be found.  From the very beginning, Jesus has taught to let go of these expectations of who you think the Messiah should be.  Do you not, as parents, often have to let go of your own expectations of who you think your kids should be so that they may become who it is God has created them to be?  They relied on these wisdom figures, these elderly folks in their lives, to point the way in a time of uncertainty and in a time when their lives were immersed in understanding and the raising of their son.

On this feast of the Presentation, we pray that these wisdom figures may be raised up in our lives, in our community and in our world.  So many have gone astray and pulled away from their faith by the desires of success, judgment, and much else that carries much pull in our lives, and we all need these figures to point the way for us, in our own uncertainties, and to learn to let go and to trust as Simeon and Anna teach us in today’s Gospel.  Also, as the Lord is presented to us in this Eucharist today, how are we presenting ourselves?  Are we open to the mystery, delving into the unknown, still learning to grow in our faith and to let go of our own expectations and to see the gift for what and who he truly is?  Have we grown into a spiritual malaise that Malachi often speaks of in his writing where we take all of this for granted.  We pray that this feast provides a spark in our lives to present ourselves fully, openly, and with much gratitude, as we see in Simeon, as the Lord is presented to us.  The gift that lies within is now revealed to us in this Eucharist.

Out of the Boat

Matthew 4: 12-23

“James and John were in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.  He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”  It seems like a rather odd detail to mention, yet, in most of the call story of these brothers, James and John, we hear that exact detail…in a boat, with their father, mending nets.  When Jesus calls they leave everything to follow.  Were they that disinterested in fishing  with their father, as a lifestyle?  What would ever possess them to leave it all behind to set out on an adventure that none of them really knew what was going to be asked of them?  Did they hold a grudge against their father that somehow they were going to become trapped in the family business, never having the opportunity to venture out and try new things?  How was Zebedee feeling towards Jesus at that moment as he pulls his two sons away from their livelihood?  Would we do the same, leaving it all behind, to follow?

The boat is often a safe place, even for ourselves, when we are out on the water.  There is some sense of safety and security when it comes to being in a boat, that just your typical day out on the water isn’t going to bring about much harm in your life.  I remember the time of my rafting accident, and after approaching every rapid that followed, falling into the raft, locking my feet in place to keep myself safe and secure, avoiding any more harm or hurt that had already occurred.  All of these things that were being given to them…a livelihood, safety, security, responsibility, and yet, none of it was going to replace the call of Jesus in their lives.  Even if they didn’t know what was going to be asked, it was going to be different, adventurous, new, bring about change, travel, and so much more; what young man or woman wouldn’t want that or find themselves looking for that in life.

The call of the disciples, as it is for us, runs much deeper than anything else.  There is a nagging and a longing that happens within us that is hard to avoid.  We can run from it and hide from it, but at some point, while we’re feeling safe and secure in life, mending nets, the call will again surface and God will once again call to some new adventure that only you can fulfill because it has been placed within your heart.  We pray today that we may respond with immediacy in our lives when the Lord calls us to change, to step out of our security and safety, into the deep, and go where only we can go, into a place of faith and trust as the brothers were called to today.  The Lord entrusted them and the Lord entrusts us to come and follow, in and through faith, to wherever he leads and calls.