Thrust Into Faith

Genesis 9: 8-15; IPeter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15

It would be hard for any of us to imagine what the families of the 17 killed in Parkland, FL are going through, or for that matter, any that have been killed in such horrific ways.  How on earth do you return to some semblance of normalcy and begin to pull your life back together again when faced with such trauma?  It would seem impossible because everything you know as normal is no more.  Everything that you knew of life is now clouded by events that took just seconds and minutes to unfold and you can never go back.  Time seems to be clocked now through that experience and all you can really do is push forward.  Push forward.  There’s not much else one can do and hopefully over time begin to rebuild a new sense of normal and a life that now stands in the shadows of such events.

I would think, though, that that’s what Noah experiences himself.  He has now witnessed the destruction of the earth and most of humanity, wiped off the face of the earth.  The natural inclination would be to hunker down inside the ark and stay where he was, wallowing in his own sense of grief and loss and never learning to trust again.  It could have been that in that moment, life comes to a standstill and Noah gives into fear and the sense of loss, ravaged by the hostile flood waters that have consumed the earth.  But Noah wrestles with it and looks for something beyond the destruction and the trauma faced by humanity.  He simply looks for some kind of sign that all will be well and that this God who has pledged commitment and love upon humanity and the earth will once again see them through the hostile waters into a new sense of life.  That doesn’t mean that they forget what has happened.  It’s nearly impossible to forget.  However, to make peace with the events and somehow reconcile with a humanity that has gone astray in order to push forward.  That sign for Noah comes in the form of a rainbow.  How many have lost people and simply wanted a sign reminding us that things are ok?  Noah saw that rainbow and was reminded of the everlasting covenant that God has made not just with Israel but will all humanity.  It seems, even for Noah, that the only way through the hostile waters or the arid desert as Jesus faces is to go through it, often clinging to what was but over time learning to let go, surrender, trust, and deepen the faith in that covenant that God remains.

Like Jesus, the hostile waters or the arid desert are often not of our choosing.  We often don’t get to decide what life throws at us or what the world throws at us.  None of the people or Parkland chose to enter into it.  Mark’s Gospel tells us today that Jesus is literally thrust into the desert.  Mindful that just prior to this is his baptism and his identity is revealed.  From that moment forward it will be challenged.  As Mark tells us, he will have to confront the wild beasts that thrive in the midst of the desert.  However, it’s not just the wild beasts out there that we learn to confront in our lives.  More often than not it’s the wild beasts that live within us that have a way of taking hold of our hearts and lives.  The worst part is, it’s the wild beasts that we tend to believe.  It’s the wild beasts of negativity and the voices that drag us down even deeper into despair that become so believable or are just easier to give into over time.  Yet, like Noah, there is only one way through and that’s pushing through the experience and allowing it to transform us.  It is so often the very place where we learn to trust and find faith in God because in the end, that’s all we really have anyway!  It’s literally all we have, faith and trust. 

There had to come a time when Noah stepped off that ark in order to begin life anew.  He had to pass through the hostile waters, unbeknownst to himself, just as we pass through the waters of baptism.  It’s where we learn to trust and put our faith in this God who has promised life from the very beginning of time and until we pass over from this life.  Our second reading from Peter today tells us of that pledge that God has made, not as a removal of dirt from our body but rather an interior change of heart and to begin our life anew.  Despite the hostilities of the world and our ongoing obsession with violence, witnessing such tragedies as we have this week and the persistent tragedy we see in this city, God still promises life.  Like Noah, it takes a first step off the ark into the ruins in order begin the process of rebuilding life but now through the lens of faith.

As we begin this season of Lent, we begin with that very promise and pledge from God about the eternal life that is given to each of us at this very moment.  We mustn’t find ourselves locked up inside the ark, trying to keep ourselves safe and secure through our illusions.  We mustn’t try to dance around the desert to avoid the aridness and the insecurity that we face in meeting the wild beasts.  More often than not and ready or not, the hostile waters and the arid desert will be thrust upon us and then the choice is ours as to how we proceed.  This season reminds us of the promise of passing through and pushing through the darkest moments of our lives, when we find ourselves unsure and questioning, that somehow life is assured and God will continue to literally pull us through in order to experience that fullness of life.  None of us can go back to what was before these moments.  All any of us can do, and the grace we pray for this Lent, is to trust and find faith in the promise once given and yet unfolding in a God who remains faithful to humanity and all living things.


Remembering to Forget

Deut 8: 2-3, 14-16; I Cor 10: 16-17; John 6: 51-58

There’s a rather obscure movie out right now, or at least I think so, called Dean.  The basic crux of the story is about a young man and his father who just keep clashing with one another because of this nagging grief that they share for the loss of their mother and wife.  They both have very different ways of dealing with what life has given them and neither understands the other.  Long and short of it, without even knowing it, separate themselves from one another to deal with their loss before they can once again come to a deeper understanding of their own relationship with one another and remember the love they have and share.  Quite honestly, it would be true of all of us here.  These deepest parts of ourselves, love, loss, grief, hunger, desire, all of them run so deep within us and often need to be found in our own way before we begin to see the oneness we have with the other and a shared love.

These two weeks now we’ve heard different versions of the story of the exodus of people Israel.  Today’s account comes to us from Deuteronomy.  The very first word out of Moses’ mouth today is simply to remember.  For the people today it was about this deepest hunger in their lives that they continue to seek out and to fill.  Much of their time, as it is with us, is forgetting who we really are in life and in our deepest self and love.  Israel was no different.  And, of course, over time, you begin to believe that you’re something other than you are.  You no longer remember.  For them it has been about their experience in the desert and the experience of slavery in Egypt.  They’ve thought God had abandoned them and somehow rejected them over time, punishing them for some reason.  But Moses simply reminds them today to remember.  It’s almost as if, as Moses points out, that they had to have this experience of the desert and to come into awareness of this deeper hunger in their lives before they can begin to remember once again.  So much, not only in their lives, must be forgotten and let go of before they can begin to question and remember and once again come together as community, more deeply rooted in their truest begin, in love.

Some who followed Jesus in those early days had similar experiences.  Shortly following today’s reading many will begin to disperse and fall away from Jesus.  They hear what he says, often taking it literally, and realize they just can’t do it.  Even in their own experience of separation from doesn’t necessarily lead them to the deeper places of their own lives.  They want to believe, as we often do, what we see and exactly what we hear in words.  But that’s not the Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel or who we encounter in this Eucharist week in and week out.  In his own way, John through Jesus and Christ through him is trying to move them to a place of remember their deeper identity as well.  As if, what speaks to us in this Eucharist can only somehow communicate with the deepest parts of ourselves.  It’s hard because we want to stay on the surface and go with what we feel, but this remembering takes us deeper than all of that.

Paul consistently tries to lead communities to that deeper place of understanding in their own lives.  They find other ways to separate themselves but in ways that often lead to divisions within their communities.  Even today, the larger context is to warn them about having more than one God.  That too is easy for us in our own process of forgetting not what we need to let go of, but forgetting that deeper love that we are.  We begin to satisfy those deepest longings and hungers within ourselves with something other than God, creating gods for ourselves, often fooling ourselves into believing that it will somehow satisfy, forgetting what is most important to us.

Over time all of this that we celebrate begins to be forgotten on the deeper levels.  We become more about worshipping, distancing ourselves not only from the drama of our lives but the drama that unfolds before us here.  We, over time, find ways to separate ourselves while this God, as it was for Israel, continues to offer manna, food that will satisfy, even in our desert experiences.  Yeah, in some ways I stand before you in a privileged position.  I stand at this altar celebrating the highs and lows of life, even my own.  I know the stories that flow through this table and Eucharist.  I have seen it unfold, trying to lead others in their deepest grief, their unsatisfied longings, and all the rest, to a place of remembering.  No matter what we may be experiencing in our own life, this Eucharist we celebrate and share it stands as a reminder of who we are and the life we are called to, a life of not simply worshipping this God, but allowing ourselves to be transformed by this God.  As we move to this Eucharistic celebration, remember.  Remember not only what you are but who you are in your deepest self, love.  In the midst of our own forgetting in life, the Eucharist calls us back to continue to be transformed into this love for an often divided and separated world.












Great Love in the Midst of Deep Suffering

1 Jn 3: 18-24; John 15: 1-8

Remain in me as I remain in you…and become my disciples.

I wasn’t about to let fear to hold me back from going further down into the city this week. How easy it would have been to remain hunkered down in my house, feeling helpless, and never stepping out the front door and down the street because of fear. Yet, I didn’t want to believe that what I saw on television was true. I didn’t want to believe places burning, national guard in place, people destroying property. I didn’t want to believe it was true, even though I knew it was at least partially true. But I wasn’t going to allow fear to stop me. Heck, as crazy as it is, I was probably more worried that something would happen to my car than to myself. All the times I’ve driven through West Baltimore and other areas, I never really felt unsafe. Uncomfortable, yeah, probably, but never unsafe.

And so I went. And I went a few times after that to different locations, mainly to listen more than anything. On Tuesday evening I found myself driving through the national guard, as surreal as that was. Quite honestly, the only other time I’ve experienced something like that was with the United Nations in the different Third World countries that I’ve done mission trips to over the years, and yet, here it was in my own city and in my backyard. That alone left me anxious, wondering what I was doing and where I was at that time.

At the gathering I had attended, I found myself overwhelmed by it all. I was overwhelmed that this was real and it was happening in this city, even though I am aware of the history of the city and the many issues it’s had over the past decades and beyond. There was a young African American woman that spoke and all I truly remember were the tears and her words, “Where there is deep pain, great love will follow.” I was truly overwhelmed by it all and nearly lost it myself as I looked out over the crowd that had gathered, wondering, disillusioned, hopeful, questioning,still in shock with tension that could be cut with a knife, and this young woman put her finger right on it, where there is deep pain, great love will follow…and she really believes it.

Remain in me as I remain in you…we hear parts of that in today’s Gospel from John and have reflected deeply upon these readings this week. The message is carried over in the second reading as well. More than anything, when there is such deep pain, and I witnessed it and heard it the times I’ve ventured out into the streets, listening and remaining is what we can most offer. In these situations we want to do something and that’s great and often necessary, but to be the peacemakers, the disciples, that we are called to be, we must also learn to sit with the tension and the rawness of reality in order to grow from and through it. Once again it will be quite easy to sweep things under the rug or try to fix them through politics, but what we experience here this week is something much deeper than problems that can be fixed. We must go below the surface of the skin and ask ourselves serious questions and sit with the uncomfortableness of it all to grow as individuals and community. Where there is deep pain, great love will follow; remain in me as I remain in you…and be my disciples.

Along with the deep pain and certainly not disconnected from it all was a sense of hopelessness. When you have nothing to lose, who cares! There’s more than the untimely death of a young man in all of this; although he becomes the catapult for it all. There is racism. There is extreme poverty in this city. There is a lack of jobs, especially for lower income neighborhoods. There is resentment. There is anger. There is the lack of quality education. There is a lack of fathers and men who can mentor and be the non-judgmental figure for young men that have given up hope. There is a drug problem, but that too lies in the surface of deeper hurt, anger, grief, and so much that we hold onto as individuals and community. Yet, where there is deep pain, great love will follow, when we no longer avoid the pain but rather go through it, the narrow path we call the Cross, that leads to that great love.

I question how effective religion has been. When there is so much hopelessness, where is faith? Even in the midst of despair, when we have that grounding in faith and Christ Crucified now raised from the dead and remain in him as he remains in us, we manage to see hope through it all. When we lose that, where then do we turn? We become boxed in to our own little world, overcome by our own pain and grief and never to experience the great love. All too often we are left with politics and activists in it all, which are fine as far as they go, but that’s not what we’re called to, we’re called as the gospel tells us today, to be his disciples. Disciples bring healing. Disciples bring unity, not division and discord. Disciples bring reconciliation. Disciples bring a listening ear and that great love with them where they go, most especially to that place of deep pain and suffering. If we’re afraid to go there we will find ourselves to go down the same path again, not to be transformed, but rather clinging to clanging cymbals, hope that isn’t really hope in the first place, expecting change to happen around us where as disciples, we’re called to seek change to happen to us, all of us.

I leave you with two questions to reflect upon this week in light of all that we have seen and listened to this week. One, where is God in the midst of it all? Even in the deepest pain, God is present. Where did we see God? And second, in what way is God calling me to change, to be healed, to grow in light of these events? That’s sometimes the tougher question to answer for all of us because we don’t always want to admit that we have to change. We can easily disconnect from these events and say they don’t concern me. Well guess what, we all participate in the dysfunction of these systems and as long as we are still breathing, God calls us to grow and change. That’s reality. So, ask yourself, how did I react this week? Where did I overreact or judge? That, my friends, is exactly where God wants to meet us and change us into his disciples. Where there is deep pain, great love will follow. As Christ’s disciples, in a city that hurts and in a world that hurts, we bring that love and we don’t allow fear to stop us and hold us back from being the people and community Christ is calling us to be at this time and the city needs us to be at this time. We are called to bring healing. We are called to be the peacemakers, which is hard work, messy, but in the end, the only way. We are called to bring reconciliation. We are called to bring a listening ear, while remaining in him as he remains in us…now, be my disciples.