Fasting for Life

Isaiah 58: 7-10; ICor 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16

I feel blessed because I’ve had the opportunity to travel to several Third World countries over the years, often with high school students. I still remember the first time I had left the country and had done one of these trips to Honduras. Needless to say, it’s a culture shock when you step off the plane in another country like this and see men standing around in many locations with machine guns. You quickly realize that you’re no longer in the States and are going to be pushed to look at life and people very differently than what we’re used to here. You know, I’m from small town Pennsylvania and I never had an experience of someone of a different color in my life until I had gone to college. My only experience was judgment, stereotype, and fear. That was it; but quickly learned that none of it was true when I began to enter into relationships with others. It didn’t seem to matter color, lifestyle, religion or anything else that is used to separate and put ourselves in a place of superiority.

The one striking thing we’d often push each other on in these different cultures and surroundings was to catch ourselves when we were being over-American. As Americans, we love to fix and we want to help to the point where we want to, in many ways, create “mini-me’s” around the globe. We think we’re the greatest and somehow know how to do this life thing better than anyone else. However, when we want to fix and we want to help, it also puts us in a place of superiority because we know better than “those” people. It automatically puts up a barrier between and prevents relationship. If there’s anything I learned, none of these experiences were about changing anyone else. More often than not, they were about changing me as a person and to let go of my fears and judgements, sometimes even about myself.

At the heart of the first reading today from the prophet Isaiah is about that, about fasting, but not int the way we use that word. Like most things, we water it down to make these things more palatable, like giving up food or something. That’s not the message of Isaiah though. Isaiah’s challenge is a much more radical fasting. He challenges Israel to fast from malicious thought, oppression, false accusation, and as I said, would include, fear and judgment. Israel also has lived with this complex of greatness, but that’s a hard standard to live up to forever. Eventually it begins to crack and Isaiah is inviting them into that place. Like us at times, they want to enter into these relationships thinking their somehow superior and above and thought everyone should be like them. Isaiah says and challenges today, to give it up. To give up that kind of thinking that stands in the way of relationship. He says to go and serve the poor, the hungry, the homeless. In our own day, we’d add refugees which is not a new phenomenon. It’s gone on for some time and we are left wondering what to do with a humanity that is not in need of fixing and helping but of healing and reconciliation. It’s not just about serving for our own need. It’s about a service that challenges us to go to the vulnerable places in our own lives that are in need of healing. It is so often in these relationships that we are pushed to that place.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. But not always. We haven’t as a country and we aren’t always in our daily lives. We can’t ignore our own darkness and the moments when we allow fear to control our lives. The light is the only thing that can help to illumine the darkness of our lives. It is so often that fear and judgement that we hold onto and often define ourselves by that prevents us from stepping out of the dark and entering into relationship with the other. Maybe it’s fear of us being moved to change that prevents us the most. When you think you’re the greatest there’s really no need for change. However, here’s the thing about greatness. You can never be it until you give up and surrender all interest in it. There’s no humility in that type of greatness, only pride that cuts our lives short from where it is that God invites us to grow in these relationships with one another.

Relationships are hard, not only others but with God. They require a great deal of effort on our part and an openness to change, me changing! It is much easier to crawl up into my fear and judgement and lock myself into my own little corner of the world but there’s nothing freeing about that. It is so often in the relationships that we have avoided because of our fear and judgment that have prevented us from an experience of the unknown, of another part of God which is then opened up to us. That’s the real desire of Isaiah and also the desire of Paul in proclaiming the mystery of God. The invitation today is to step beyond our own comfort. Maybe it is in service to someone different than myself that I have feared. The challenge is to not go into it with the intention to fix or someone change to your image and likeness, but low and behold, to maybe, just maybe, allow yourself to be changed. The more we fast from this fear and judgment and even malicious thoughts that Isaiah tells us about today, the more we are opened to hearts that are healed and vulnerable to a greater experience of love. In that we continue to grow into our call in being salt of the earth and light of the world.

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A Weary World Rejoices

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Isaiah 9: 1-6, Luke 2: 1-14

A weary world rejoices…it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth

They are the words of the classic Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, which we celebrate this evening and there’s no denying that a weary world it so often seems…

The two great stories that identify us as Christians, tonight, of course, the incarnation of our God, God breaking in and taking on human flesh, and then the death and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter have many similarities to their surroundings as they unfold. If you reflect upon both there is great upheaval and chaos that is going on all around these events. Yet, all those who are so greatly connected to them don’t seem bothered by the fact. There of course is corruption by the political and religious authorities of the time, who all along plot the death of Jesus. There’s fear beyond belief. There’s yet another boot tramped in battle and another cloak rolled in blood as Isaiah tells us this evening. It is a weary world that Jesus encounters from the very beginning. All of it sets the scene for these two great events that define us.

But they also happen in darkness. It’s almost as if God can only seem to do something with people in darkness, when they are most vulnerable. And if that’s true, and it is true, then imaging the great things God is trying to do at this very moment in a world that continues to stand weary, and yet, on this night, manages to rejoice the birth of a Savior. But it doesn’t seem to destroy the darkness. It’s still there. The most vulnerable still are impacted the most by ongoing war and violence of a world plagued by fear. Who can get out of their minds, and maybe we’re not supposed to, the images of the children running for their lives out of Aleppo. Or as we lie down at night, others continue to remain very vulnerable on these very streets of this city, murder and death, night after night. It is a weary world and a weary world that welcomes the birth of the Savior and begins to make space for a God breaking through the weariness of the world.

But it’s us as well who experience such weariness in our own lives. It’s not just beyond us in outlying areas. It’s us when we are most vulnerable as well, as we lie down in the darkness of the night and we can no longer outrun our weariness and weighs upon our hearts and souls. As the day silences it only seems as if the mind begins to race, thinking of what hurts and worries us at this moment, a dying parent, a sick child, an unemployed spouse, a lost soul, all of this arises in the darkness of the night, when we too are most vulnerable for something, for someone, a God breaks through and begins to bring light to a weary load, no longer needing to figure it out on our own but a God who comes to ease and to point us in a new direction in life. It is the night, a night that lies weary.

It is the story of people Israel whom Isaiah speaks to today. They too know weariness and are searching for something and someone. Long before Jesus even enters the scene, Isaiah knows in his very being this Christ. It’s the only explanation for such words of hope to a people who have wandered in darkness and experience boot tramped in battle and cloak rolled in blood. They know ongoing war and violence. They know famine and poverty. And yet, when a new king ascends the throne, this great hymn is sung as if the past is the past and we begin anew. We no longer need to walk in the darkness and become victims of our own vulnerability, for a child is given us and a new leader will rule the earth. Once again, God desperately tries to break into the weariness of the lives of Israel, who so often try to go it alone. And over and over again, leads to further war and violence, famine and poverty. And once again, it is the most vulnerable that are forgotten, the faces of Aleppo that are now ingrained in our minds and hearts. That’s the irony of the story, it is in the most vulnerable places that God breaks in and it’s the place we will try to outrun and avoid. It is so often the place we fear the most.

Somehow, that fear takes hold. There is Herod, as well, who fears that another king has been born. In his own insecurities, someone is going to try to steal his power away from him, which, of course, isn’t power or peace at all, it’s fear that rules the land and Herod’s heart. But what Herod didn’t know because he was so encapsulated by himself, is that this king was different. This king wasn’t looking to ascend to his throne or somehow knock him off. This King wasn’t about ascending at all. This King was one who was descending into the depths of the earth, into the depths of our very being, to the most vulnerable place, our own poverty, our own weariness in order to give us life. Herod had nothing to fear and yet did and there was a price, a heavy price, that would be paid by the most vulnerable of his time.

And so chaos ensued. Darkness covered the earth and never seemed to lift. Yet, in the midst of it all in this couple, Mary and Joseph. Mary gives birth to the Savior as we see in this manger scene and now will have to confront the fear of Herod and their own fear. But they have nothing to fear. Mary doesn’t only give birth to the Savior into the world. Mary allows the incarnation to birth within her. Joseph allows this incarnation to be birthed within him. The shepherds, the most despised of their day, traitors, thieves, robbers, as they were, hear the message of the angels and their souls felt their worth. They too allowed the incarnation to be birthed in them and their lives are forever changed. In the midst of the chaos and darkness, a weary world rejoices for it is in those very moments that God desires to break into our lives, to meet us in our very humanity. Sure we like an Almighty God who ascends to the throne, but first, and most importantly, descends into the weariness of our lives. This is a vulnerable God, a scandalous God, that desires to love the places where we find ourselves most weary and to birth new life, to break into and through our own weariness. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth and a weary world rejoices.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the nostalgia and sentimentality of the season, and maybe that’s easy for some of us to do. It’s an opportunity to block out the weariness and emptiness of our own lives, the poverty of the soul that desires worth. Yet, it’s not the peace this night provides or desire of us. Because as we gather, chaos still happens. Darkness is still the reality for many. War and violence haven’t stopped simply for Christmas. No, the world remains weary and will be weary, just as our lives very much can be even at a night when we rejoice. The message tonight is of hope, of a God who desires to love so much that is willing to do the unthinkable, a God who’s willing to descend from on high and meet us where we are, to birth us once again, so that we may be the bearers of light to the darkness, to the war-driven streets of Aleppo and Baltimore, and even to our most vulnerable places, where we feel most weary this day, for today we rejoice that our Savior has been born, breaking into our world and lives, and points us to a still more perfect, fulfilling way of life. Merry Christmas!

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.

Illumined Darkness

Luke 3: 10-18

In all the talk this week about Muslims, banning people and the such, I was thinking about the mission trips I had taken out to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. We had spent time with a Native and he spoke about the experience of living on the Reservation and the amount of poverty and addictions that exist. He followed up by mentioning that this model became the model for concentration camps, in some ways it continues with the Palestinians, and have even heard the city described that way, in trying to concentrate in one area the perceived threat and somehow over time it will go away. Of course, when you box people in, strip them of their dignity, it will always lead to problems and greater violence. Those of us on the outside don’t understand and question why they just don’t change, but is it us that need to change? Before we quickly write off the people like Trump, I think it’s important to remember that it’s revealing something about us as people, our blind side, shadow side, which we too try to cut off and pretend isn’t there with the hopes that it will go away. It, to some, will appear as the light, but is a deception. We, now, will be pointed to the true light in Christ. Without us even knowing, darkness has a way of concealing itself as light. We seek the true light.

Here, once again, is John the Baptist. “What should we do?” the people ask him today. Of course, these are not the powers-that-be coming to him today. He’s speaking to the people on the bottom rung of the ladder, who too are being used by the people in power and they’re starting to feel the pressure of it, sacrificing their own dignity. But John’s about to give it right back to them. Each time the question is asked by the tax collector, the crowd, and the solider, another part of that shadow is revealed about the powers-that-be and their abuse by those on the perceived bottom, a shadow that they have come to believe to be their identity, confirmed by the oppressor. Of course, this isn’t going to settle well with Herod who in the very next passage is going to send the Baptist off to prison. He’s aware that his power, albeit an illusion, is being threatened and the illusion is beginning to break. The last think Herod needs or any insecure leader, is a rising up from those on the bottom.

But that’s where John meets these folks today. He meets the vulnerable ones that are impacted by the system. Ironically, when we see things being done to groups of people or even these mass shootings that have become too regular, it’s always against the vulnerable. It’s so often the vulnerable place within us that we want to avoid, where we hurt the most, that we want to isolate and avoid. All of this reminds us of just how much hurt is there. It’s safe to say we have a God problem more than anything! John isn’t confronting the system, though, or even condemning them, although comes close at times. No. Rather, he is leading those on the bottom, the vulnerable ones, to a new place. First he challenges practical changes in what they do, but even those are going to impact the people in power. He begins to reveal the shadow by shedding light on and into it. It’s no wonder that they question whether he is the Christ. Before Jesus even enters the scene, John points the way to a Christ already present within and among the people. Life will not get any easier for anyone in change like this. A system that has benefited from taking advantage of will begin to shake and question what all of this means, doubling down on what was.

Our natural inclination and reaction is to try to separate what we don’t like and what feels vulnerable to us from our lives. It seems as if it’s easier when we don’t have to do it, but just as we have witnessed around the globe, when a voice is trying to cry out, it sometimes goes to dramatic means to be heard. John becomes the voice for so many that had no voice and felt betrayed and taken advantage of. He tries to lead them to a place of freedom that they will find in Christ. In many ways, there no avoiding all of this; it’s so ingrained into who we are. Yet, we don’t have to be controlled by it. We become independent rather than co-dependent, which is how it wants us to feel, as if we need it and somehow it is benefiting us. Yet, all it does is hold us back from living life freely.

As we enter these last days of the Advent season, John points us to the vulnerable place in our lives. Where do we find ourselves hurting and trying to block it out, section it off, separate it from ourselves. The irony is, our greatest gift is often found in our greatest hurt. If we allow ourselves to go there as John points the way, we may find what it is we have always been looking for. We seek a life of freedom and with God’s mercy and forgiveness, it will be revealed to us. It’s no wonder God had to come in the most vulnerable of ways, as a baby, completely dependent on others, born in a manger. Soon after his own birth even he will be seen as a threat. John points the way and reveals that light to us, in our most vulnerable place, hidden in the manger of our hearts, waiting to give back our greatest gift.

An Encounter With Love

John 3: 14-21

Nicodemus is one of the more intriguing characters we encounter in John’s Gospel, partially because very little is known about him other than his encounters with the Lord, beginning with this one today. He will appear again in a few chapters when he begins to confront his own darkness in the light of day and then reappear at the end of Jesus’ life in preparing the body for burial in the new tomb. But like the other conversion stories we know of this gospel, such as the Woman at the Well, the Man Born Blind, and the Raising of Lazarus, it still contains many of John’s themes of light and darkness, seeing and not seeing, and a gradual deepening of faith through an encounter with the Lord.

Now the one thing we do know of Nicodemus is that he’s a Pharisee and that this first encounter happens in the dead of night, complete darkness, both of which are important in understanding his conversion in John’s Gospel. Now we all know John is often criticized for what some would call lofty theology but at least when it comes to these conversion stories, he really writes more from a mystical union within himself, that’s why John and Jesus are often misunderstood, but conversion nonetheless. So Nicodemus comes in the dark of the night so that he isn’t seen in this encounter with the Lord by anyone, especially the Pharisees whom he is a part of; yet, he goes. There’s obviously something missing in his life that is pushing for this encounter, and in the darkness of the night he really begins to confront his own darkness, but not in the sense that we often associate it with sin and suffering. What Nicodemus begins to confront is the darkness of the persona he’s been trying to live up to. Again, in the literal sense that’s why he does this in the dark of night as to not be seen. He still is driven and identifies himself with the Pharisee. He still seeks acceptance and can fall into that trap, yet, at the same time, feels movement within and beyond that persona.

Jump ahead a few chapters when we encounter him again. At that point it is in the light of day. He begins to live from a different place within and is beginning to see the cracks in the persona that he has created. Remember, we’re no different. We create them for ourselves as well to protect ourselves from vulnerability often. We try to live up to the persona of the priest, of a doctor, lawyer, even mother or father or so on where our entire identity gets wrapped up in that role that we begin to lose sight of who we really are. This is where we’re encountering Nicodemus throughout the Gospel. It will only be near the end when he can finally begin to let that go, know it’s there, and yet choose to live from a different place and allowing Love to lead rather than the persona. It’s hard work but it’s the work of conversion that we speak of during the season of Lent, a conversion in its truest sense, in a biblical sense.

But I do believe that his story is much like ours. So often we encounter these characters and here their stories and it seems as if everything changes dramatically and quickly. But that’s typically not my experience and I’m sure not yours either. Conversion for us tends to be slow and steady as it is for Nicodemus. Gradually the darkness begins to be revealed in the light. Yet, John tells us that we prefer the darkness and that’s true. We know the darkness of the world and persona that we create for ourselves and as we grow it can often do more harm that good to us and beyond, it holds us back from living out of that Love and often leads to even greater darkness, leaving us questioning, fearful, and quite anxious about life when we find ourselves trying to be something we are not, and for that matter, someone we are not, at least not in the fullest.

As we continue these now final weeks of the Lenten season, we pray for a deeper awareness of our own darkness and the persona’s we identify ourselves with. Although it may be what we do at times, it’s not our true identity in Christ just as it wasn’t for Nicodemus. Imagine the love and the place in which Nicodemus lived within and from in the end in the care for the body of Jesus as it was prepared for his resting place. We are invited into that same encounter with the Crucified and Risen Lord, gradually and often, to confront and identify that darkness in our own lives, and like Nicodemus, the more that divine indwelling shines through and leads the way in our lives, the more we will become love, live in love, be led by love, often where we do not want to go, and to manifest that love into the world.

Reflectors of the Light

Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11; John 1: 6-8, 19-28

As much as Matthew, Mark, and Luke deal largely with the ministry of Jesus, John deals with much deeper issues beyond the doing of Jesus. As we make this tilt towards the final days of Advent, John begins to shift our focus from the end times to the indwelling of the Christ and the identity of Christ and His relation with the others he encounters, including whom we hear from today, John the Baptist. Both Jesus and John push back on a system, a patriarchal system that is still a part of who we are to this day, where identity it fully identified, at least as a man, in his role, function, what he does rather than a deeper understanding of who and whose he is.

But John’s not going to play that game. John has already moved beyond the normal roles in life and has found a deeper sense of who he is in Christ. He’s had to let go of what others think, their expectations and his own, the prescribed roles that would be expected and now lives from another place. Yet, he experiences this interrogation today by the scribes and pharisees who have defined roles and will do everything they can to try to box him in and pigeon hole John for who they want him to be rather than who he really is. They ask question of what he is and who he is…are the prophet, are you Elijah, are you the Christ, and again, rather than playing their game, John tries to change the rules and play by a different game.

As the Gospel of John goes on, it becomes somewhat laughable because Jesus’ approach is very much the same. He will experience the same push back and boxing in that John experiences in today’s gospel reading. It becomes laughable because it’s more evident as times goes on that they are often talking past one another and totally different planes. The Gospel writer may be a theologian of sorts, but he’s also a mystic in his own right. The shift takes place even in Jesus’ approach to ministry and becomes more evident in John’s Gospel. It appears to come from a different place. Rather than the doing defining Jesus, his very being, as the Christ, becomes the source of life. Think how often we try to define ourselves, others, and even God by who we want and expect them to be. We label ourselves by what we do and our jobs…teacher, doctor, priest, football player and so on, rather than see ourselves as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Christ and God. When we lose the role and functions, so many can no longer live because it’s all they have known. Both John the Baptist and Jesus point in another direction.

Now it takes great humility on the part of John the Baptist, and for us as well, to step aside and admit who we are and even who we aren’t. When he’s interrogated today, he is sure to note that he simply testifies to the light but is not the light. You see, the Baptist, like us, can never be the Light and we can never be Christ, the Baptist’s humility comes in the recognition and acceptance that he can simply testify to it. John reflects the light and he reflects the light. It’s a great deal of pressure and responsibility to put on ourselves when we think we can be something and someone that we are not. Yet, in the culture and world we live, many try. They try to live up to their own expectations and the expectations of others, boxing themselves in and simply settling for something much less than God ever intended for any of us.

Jesus too tries to expand that vision of who and whose we are. In Luke’s Gospel he quotes this passage we hear from Isaiah today, expanding the realms of God and salvation, the gift of the Christ goes beyond those who have deemed themselves worthy, such as the scribes and pharisees who often put themselves in the place of God, it now extends to the trenches and the fringes of society, the poor and downcast who have often been neglected. When our eyes begin to see differently and we no longer have to by into the boxed in world we create for ourselves by our roles and functions, we begin to see as God sees and we begin to reflect the light and reflect the Christ and see all as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Christ and God.

It’s easier said than done, but as we make this shift in the Advent season, where am I still boxing myself, others, and God in, making them in my image rather than accepting them for who and whose they are? The Christ-event which we prepare for and actively wait in anticipation, is the expansion of our world view and an expansion of our hearts and souls, making room and space for God and others who have been shunned by us for one reason or another. But we can take the pressure off knowing we aren’t the Light and we aren’t the Christ. All we can simply do is reflect and mirror the divine and to see it and accept it in the other. In these final days of this season, we pray that we may find and accept our true identity in Christ and allow God to incarnate in and through us as we reflect his love to a hurting world.

Why, suicide?

I was asked if I could post the homily from Mass today.  I’ve done my best at getting in writing the message delivered.

There is one thing that I have learned about the suffering, darkness, and pain of my own life. That one thing is that if I don’t speak of it, acknowledge it, and even reverence it, it will always have power over me. Pain, suffering, and darkness have a way of attaching themselves to shame and guilt like none other, leaving us with this irrational thought that no one else will understand. However, I think of the great saints like Mother Theresa who we only learned later suffered greatly in life and often felt trapped in darkness. But as a person of faith and as people of faith, we must look elsewhere; we must look for hope in the midst of our own darkness and despair.

There’s a great challenge on a day like this, knowing that this young man took his own life. It’s hard to find hope and light. The pain is raw and seems to hit us in front of our faces. We are left with the questions of why. I have done many funerals over the years but in particular three teenagers. I can’t tell you much about the others, but I remember quite well the details of each of those deaths. It’s different with someone so young. They have their whole life ahead of them. We can’t stop asking the “why” questions…why would someone do this? Why didn’t he get help? Why did he think this was the way out? Why, why, why? But when I met with the family at the police station last week and we talked about those questions, we, as human beings, try to make something rational that is very irrational. We’re trying to make sense out of something that will never make sense. We’re trying to answer questions that will never have an answer, and quite honesty, often only lead to greater darkness.

Now I know it’s different with teenagers. I’ve worked with you long enough to have some idea of how things work. Quite honestly, you don’t have the experience all the time to know that there is something beyond the darkness and pain. It’s right in front of our faces and it seems as if we’re at the end of our rope with no where to turn. What I want to say to you today is that this is not the answer to life’s problems, to life’s darkness, and to what seems hopeless at times. I’m going to challenge you today that if you are experiencing darkness in your life, seek out help. Seek out someone that can really listen and reverence the darkness in your life. Seek out someone that will love you regardless of what makes your heart ache. If you don’t know someone, seek me out and I will point you in the direction that you need to deal with whatever may be hurting.

The most important message, as people of faith, is what Paul tells us today in his letter to the Romans. Nothing, not even the darkest thing we can imagine or face in life, nothing that hurts us so great, nothing, nothing, can separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing! And although the choice Max made is not the answer, and we see that in the hurt that it leaves us with, but not even this can separate us from God. As a matter of fact, this is exactly where God wants to meet us. God wants to meet us in the mystery of life and death. We can’t avoid death, but even death doesn’t separate us from the love of God. This is where we find consolation today. This is where we find our hope today and in the days and weeks ahead as we continue to grieve and wonder and question. God is present in the midst of it all and if we’re open, we will catch glimpses of it.

And so we gather here today, to yes, thank God for the life given to Max. We gather here today seeking hope and consolation for our hurting hearts, filled with questions and doubts. I too have agonized over this the past week because there are no answers and we don’t always know what to day, especially under these circumstances. We gather here today, to remember, nothing separates us from the love of God. To his peers and to those who may find themselves in a dark place today and at this moment, seek help; seek the help that will lead to life from someone that will listen and accept. A God who becomes flesh shows us the way to speak the words, share our story, reverence our hurts, pain, and darkness, and in time, it loses it’s power over us. God wants us to live and to seek out life in all that we do. If we haven’t done that with the best of choices, we have hope in a God that isn’t separate and a God that always loves. Nothing, no pain or hurt is too great, to separate us from God. In faith, we seek our hope through Paul’s words today, in the spoken word, that gives us true power, a love that never ends and that nothing in this life will ever separate us from God of life and love.