#MeTooLord

1 Sam 3: 3-10, 19; I Cor 6: 13-15, 17-20; John 1: 35-42

I would guess that most are aware that the Person of the Year on Time Magazine was not a person, but rather #MeToo.  It was the “Me Too” movement that had begun months ago and then showcased in that edition of women, and some men, who had been sexually assaulted from persons of authority, abuse of power, or however you want to describe one taking advantage of the other.  The first question often asked afterwards is why does it take so long for someone to step forward in such a situation.  My personal opinion, if you even have to ask the question you probably have not done a great deal of interior work otherwise you’d know the courage it takes to confront the truth of our lives and the stories that make us up and that we become identified with, and more often than not, the negative.  They tell us we’re not good enough.  There’s something wrong with us.  I’m not worthy enough.  Yet, it often takes another person whom we can trust, someone who can love us unconditionally in return, and can help us face the truth of our lives before we can take that step forward and begin to see ourselves as something more.  That’s why it takes so long for someone to come forward because it takes us all a great deal of time to come forward in our own lives and have an encounter with the real.

It is that type of encounter that will change the course of the lives of the disciples as we hear their call this morning in John’s gospel.  As much as it is the call, this week is really a continuation of last week, Epiphany, and the Magi’s own encounter with the real.  As you remember, they have the encounter with the Christ, with truth, with that unconditional love, and their lives are sent in a different direction.  There was no going back.  The same is true for all who have the courage to step out of their own social and cultural norms.  We see what happened to many of the women in the #MeToo movement.  No sooner they come out, especially when it involves politicians or famous people, shame is almost immediately cast upon them.  It is the reality of the disciples being called forth as well today.  It’s why the call of the disciples involves often two leavings.  They leave their families and they leave their work behind, the two places where our own image and identities are thrust upon us and it’s not until the encounter, like the Magi and the disciples, where we begin to see that there’s something more about us and for our lives.  The natural inclination, even for the disciples, will be to try to return to what they had known, only to find that it’s no longer enough and the desire for more will push them forward once again.

When we hear the first reading today from Samuel, we encounter two people who seem to still be trying to step forward in a courageous way and experience God differently.  Even Eli, this wisdom figure, doesn’t seem to understand this call and encounter that Samuel has received.  He too is going to have to let go of his own expectations and who he thought this God was before it begins to make sense.  Samuel, like the disciples, will be called forth with great courage to do what seems to be the impossible, to be that voice of truth, that presence of unconditional love, to speak honestly to Eli and where he has gone astray in his own life, leading to a deeper understanding of God and himself.  So often it’s through that person we trust, that can love us unconditionally, who can be present to us in our story who then lead us to the path of freedom and to become our fullest selves.

Although it may not sound like it, it’s also what Paul is trying to convey to the Corinthian community in today’s second reading.  They are a newly converted community but like most, as it seems to begin to wear off, they want to return to their former way of lives.  He not only speaks of the body, as in ourselves, but that too because some began to look for love and intimacy in the wrong places, seeking encounters not with the Lord but with prostitutes!  Paul challenges them as a community that they must become that encounter for all who have gone astray.  They weren’t to just leave them go off; rather, lead them back to the real, to an encounter once again of unconditional love, to the Lord who gives them life.  It often feels like you’re giving up so much when taking that step forward, over and over again, but in the end we gain everything.  When we have that encounter with the Lord, the direction of our lives are changed and we no longer settle for social norms, cultural norms, and our own past that often holds us back.

As we enter into these weeks of ordinary time, we’ll continue to see that manifestation of that unconditional love in healing stories and forgiveness.  We’ll see it in the encounters Jesus has with people on the way, who’s curiosity is peeked as it was with the disciples today.  Even John knew there was more.  They would leave behind family, political affiliation, religious affiliation as it was with John, to step into and out of something new.  It takes a great deal of courage to face our own past and to become aware of the identities that we cling to in our own lives, running back at times to what gives us comfort, even if it means living in the shame of our hurt as it was with the #metoo movement.  We know it when we have the encounter with the real, with the Christ because like so many who we hear of in Scripture, when it happens, life is changed forever.   They’re never satisfied with the norms anymore and are liberated from their own fear.  We pray for that grace in our own lives, to be cracked open by the invitation to encounter the Lord in a new way, to leave behind our old identities and now seek our identity in Christ.  We encounter that in that presence, in that unconditional love, and the acceptance of the Other, who calls us forth to a fuller way of life and to no longer settle in fear for anything less than more.

Intimately Beyond

Isaiah 60: 1-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

We come to the final Sunday of the Christmas season and it gets bookended with Matthew’s version of the birth of Christ with the visit of the Magi and the star guiding their way.  Of course, even here we lump them all together to create our very own Charlie Brown Christmas but certainly not the intention of either Matthew or Luke, each having their own reasons as to why the story is told.  I’ve said before that Matthew is very much about change and an interior change that is necessary to be a follower and so there’s very little need to historical evidence of these events but very much when it comes to our spiritual life.

It is the rising of the stars appearance that sets these Magi on this journey to Bethlehem.  Many over the years have tried to give historical evidence even of the star, whether it’s a comet or something, but again, not Matthew’s point.  If we want evidence, facts, or certainty we’ve come to the wrong place.  It was common belief that everyone was given a star by these astrologers upon their birth into this world.  Yet something had to be different about this one that would set the astrologers on such an arduous journey themselves.  It’s rising must have set off an unrest within them that would send them seeking and now stand as the archetypal images of seeking of the more.  Not the more the world tries to offer but the seeking of the Christ that forces us to our knees in homage.  So they set out in search of the rising star.  A star that stands as a guiding principle, a seat of wisdom, of sorts that lies deep within them and yet still unknown.

There is another word we use often in our language that has star at its root.  The word we use is disaster, dis-star, meaning separated from one’s internal guide.  We even speak of our lives or such as a disaster when we feel out of sorts or feeling lost and confused.  Which leads us to the first stop of the Magi, Jerusalem, where they encounter disaster first hand in Herod.  Herod considers himself the center of the world and yet is filled with fear and paranoia when he hears of this rising star coming to the world stage.  Not only Herod, but all of Jerusalem with him, Matthew tells us.  Now certainly they knew what Herod was capable of and would see first hand his destruction and just how much of a disaster he was.  This rising star, not only a threat to Herod’s perceived power but very much to the status quo.  Even though this peace was rooted in fear it’s what they knew and what they could cling to.  They were certain of at least that.

The Magi quickly learn that Jerusalem in not the place of the Christ.  It’s going to be an opportunity for these journeymen to let go of their own perceived idea of the power they sought was not going to come from worldly position.  The most obvious place was the palace in Jerusalem and yet all they find there in the midst of wealth and status was fear, jealousy, secrets, and a guy who was most consumed by himself and the power he acquired through position than in seeking.  Herod himself stands as an archetype of the non-seeker, believing that authority comes from him and external authority.  He thinks it’s enough to send the Magi further to do the work for him.  Yet, as a writer who calls for interior change, Matthew understands that the work is done by ourselves.  We must make the journey ourselves while passing through the doors of death in Jerusalem, just as Jesus does as well.  Matthew mirrors Jesus’ own journey by passing through Jerusalem in order to experience the fullness of life that is promised. 

This all leads to the second journey, the journey into Bethlehem.  Notice that it appears in the writing of the gospel that the star seems to dissipate over Jerusalem and reappears as they begin the second journey.  Now having been stripped of their own expectations, the Magi open themselves and create the space within themselves to encounter the divine.  When they find their true home, not in some palace, but in the poverty of Bethlehem, everything begins to make sense.  They recognize that what they have sought they had all along and simply cast a shadow upon Herod and the status quo.  It was simply revealed to them who Herod really was and the emptiness of his supposed power, holding people hostage in fear and settling for the status quo. 

Mary and Joseph, in Matthew’s gospel are not exempt from making a similar journey.  They too will follow and be led by the rising star into Egypt.  They, and all of Israel, are invited to face their own history.  Egypt stood for everything Herod was, despite being a religious leader.  Egypt was the place of slavery, war, and fear for Israel.  Matthew calls them collectively to take this journey that the Magi do to shed light and to cast a shadow on where it is that they need to change and where they still cling to fear.  Like the infant passing through, the Magi passing through Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph passing through Egypt, and ultimately Jesus passing through Jerusalem, there’s no way around.  The journey to a fuller and free life is through our own Jerusalem.

The journey Matthew calls us to and the encounter with the Christ is a difficult one and arduous at best.  It’s long and it takes us to places we’d often rather not go.  No one wants to admit that we at times clamor for power, fear and are anxious, content with the status quo, want proof and certainty, and yet, everything about this feast and season tells us just the opposite of who we have been created to be.  Like Herod, no one else can do it for us.  Heck, we’re even content with living a disastrous life and settling for it in our Church, city, nation, and world.  It’s what we know and can be sure of, but lacks meaning and purpose and certainly shows how separated we’ve become from our own center.  Our faith and what we celebrate in this season points to freedom and liberation, more often than not, from ourselves.  Letting go of our own expectations, being led to the belly of the beast, and yet pushed even further to encounter what is real.  And in a moment, in a simple encounter, everything makes sense.  The Magi could not go home by the same route just as we cannot when we have this encounter with the Christ.  In that encounter the Magi see, for the first time, the real presence, and finally understand that the Christ has been with them all along this journey, when the divine of within encounters the divine beyond.

As we enter into the fullness of this season and begin to tell the story of how this gift is manifested, we pray for the grace to make the journey.  No one can do it for you and no one can tell you how to get there.  Everyone knows their Jerusalem and their Egypt that they need to encounter.  Slowly, the eternal Christ within begins to reveal what is real and the deeper truth of our own lives.  It takes courage and great grace.  But like the Magi, in our own unsettledness, we’re pushed forward and through so that we to can live the fullness of life.  Matthew desired something more from and for his community after witnessing the horrors of the world.  Our desire is the same.  The Magi point the way into our own Bethlehem, into the vulnerability of a heart that throbs and overflows with union.  When we allow ourselves the opportunity to make the journey we become transformed, liberated from a past that holds us back and clouds our vision in order to be led to a deeper understanding of this mystery that lead us to simply do as the Magi, to fall on our knees in homage recognizing that it was never about us but the Christ that calls us forth to new life.

Navigating Darkness

Matthew 2: 1-12

One of the movies I caught over the holidays was A Monster Calls. The story is about a young boy, Conor, who finds himself just overwhelmed by life and not able to take much more of it. His parents are divorced, he’s bullied at school because he’s become so isolated, and now the one consistency in his life, his mother, is dying of cancer. He has this ongoing nightmare where he feels as if life is slipping through his hands. There’s so much uncertainly that he lives in this constant state of fear, let along the anxiety and anger he’s experiencing because of this deep grief.

But he encounters this “monster” which is the tree outside in the cemetery that comes to life. Even that distracts him from the nightmare he’s used to. He begins to call upon it. He begins to realize that the “monster” isn’t out there in the cemetery, it’s deep within him. The monster keeps assuring him that he’s leading him to healing, to this deeper truth that gets lost in the darkness of despair and this ongoing lie that he’s holding onto that everything will be alright and his mother will somehow survive. He begins to learn how to navigate through the darkness that has so often consumed his life and learns to let go. It’s not easy for us adults let along a young boy trying to navigate.

This whole season has been allowing ourselves to wander and navigate that same darkness in our lives. Christmas does not expel the darkness nor does it somehow destroy it. We seem to operate in the world that we can get rid of it which only leads to greater darkness. These Magi we encounter today are learning to do the same in their lives. Even their navigation is a bit off, leaning on their own expectations of a king being born. They find themselves a few miles outside Bethlehem in Jerusalem, in what seems to be their final challenge in learning how to navigate this great darkness, the Herod that lies within.

Fear rules Herod and the land and it’s what the Magi now must face within themselves. He was a tyrant and often believed to have been paranoid in the end of his days. He too finds himself in a position where life seems to be slipping through his fingers and losing control. However, he doesn’t let it go. Rather, he takes it out on the most vulnerable, on the children and has them killed. It’s fear, darkness, and despair when it comes to Herod but a valuable lesson for the Magi seeking life, the newborn King. it’s a struggle for many of us, the darkness within ourselves that is so often easier to cast upon the other rather than learning how to navigate it all. Jerusalem will become that same place for the disciples as the story goes on. They too won’t understand the Christ until they first encounter that same darkness. It won’t come in the form of Herod but in the form of a crucifixion by others who are plagued by darkness. Jerusalem becomes the doorway to Bethlehem.

And so they find their way to the Christ. They offer their own gifts, in someways symbolic of their own journey and the darkness that they too had to confront. The journey to the Christ took them where they’d rather not go, where we would rather not go, but like God, we are often led without even knowing, into the great unknown, into this deeper reality of mystery. For young Conor and for the disciples, it was about seeking truth and truth leads to darkness and to life. He had to let go of what he knew. It was no longer about the head knowledge that we want to cling to and how it’s supposed to be or how we want it to be, but rather a deeper knowledge. It’s deeper knowing and truth that so often is beyond words but lies deep within, ever so gently navigating us through that very darkness that we have feared.

As this season of Christmas draws to a close, the journey really just begins. We’ll hear the call of the disciples to go deeper. We’ll hear the call to enter into this journey and to begin to learn to trust something deeper within themselves as they too are led to uncharted territory, where all that they have known begins to slip through their fingers. They will be left with the same choice as the Magi as the encounter the Christ. Do they leave it all at that crib, with great humility, life and death, or do they cling to what they can see, what they know, what they are comfortable with in life? It is what is asked of us as well. With God’s grace, we can learn to navigate the darkest of times, but we can’t deal with the darkness of the country or the world until we first begin to master it within ourselves. When we do, like the Magi, we can no longer go home the same way. The seeking of and finding of the Christ changes the course of our lives where we too go home by another way. It’s no longer about going home to what we know but into the unknown, into this deeper mystery. No, and not that physical place we call home, but deep in the recesses of our hearts and souls, ever so gently teaching and guiding us, while casting light, to navigate the darkness of our lives.

The Further Journey

Matthew 2: 1-12

There’s a very thin line that the magi face in their lives, whether the star stops them short when the encounter Herod or recognizing there’s something and someone more; it hadn’t stopped over Jerusalem but further along. Yet, for many of us on this journey, we become captivated by the draw of the royal palace of Herod. We stop short, as the people of Jerusalem do by an illusion of peace, one brought on by fear rather than love. Yet, it’s comfortable in the palace. We have all that we need and know what we know. Isn’t that what this journey often becomes for us? We become comfortable here, in what we know, around the people that we know, safe and secure, until we find ourselves boxed in to the comforts, no longer wanting to grow and change. It’s the advantage that kids have over us adults, that they continue to have a sense of wonder and adventure, exploring, never satisfied, and looking for something more.

This story that we hear today of the magi or kings or whatever we choose to call them is really you and me. It’s our journey towards faith and love. They must encounter it all in this journey. They feel the heat of the desert, stripping layers off themselves, being with no one other than themselves. They too face the darkness and the unknown, heading out into unfamiliar terrain, looking for something, tapping into that sense of adventure and wonder, where it is that this star would lead them. But they too must confront the illustrious palace of Herod. They are invited into the inner sanctum of Herod. He shows them graciousness. He seeks their counsel and their wisdom. He finds a way to use them for his own benefit, but by now, they know there’s something more. Whereas we often find ourselves settling for the illusion of Herod and his palace in our lives, the magi invite us to a deeper place, a life of mature faith. Yet, this may be the greatest challenge we face in moving to that place because fear becomes what we know that we begin to think the illusion is the truth, is real. The magi know otherwise. We know otherwise, when we don’t allow that sense of wonder and adventure, the desire for more, to die within us. How could we possibly give up the palace when it’s what we know?

Faith is the continuation, that constant hungering for more that drives the magi from the palace to a more humble place where they find themselves today. If there were any illusions of the star stopping over Jerusalem that day, it has all been but lost. The journey they embarked on, into the unknown of God and into the unknown of themselves, leads them to this place, to this newborn king, who seems to promise much more than Herod ever could to them. Herod could hand them everything and it still wouldn’t be enough for what this child can give, a life now rooted in love, which casts out all fear. As a matter of fact, through the love of that child, who is love, and an encounter with the truth in that crib, the magi go home by a different route. Fear is no longer an option. The regalia of the palace is no longer appealing. It’s lost its appeal and all that goes with it. What has died is not the sense of wonder and adventure, the desire for more; all of that has only been given new life. What has died for the magi, and what dies for us in the encounter with this deeper mystery, is a life once known, a life of illusion brought by fear, a life that no longer satisfies the deeper longing of the heart, which leads us, too, on a different route home.

My friends, as we gather on this feast of the Epiphany, the magi point us in a new way, beyond the palace we’ve created for ourselves and the comfort of the known, to a journey into the unknown, the deeper mystery we call love. We know that palace can be very appealing to the eyes, but the heart tells us something more, something deeper that is desired, and calls us to leave that place and move to the place of greater humility, the place of the crib; where the star leads the magi, we too are led. Otherwise, we run the risk of encounters with mystery in new ways. Maybe the encounter comes through person of a different color. Maybe the encounter comes through a person of a different faith or a different way of practicing their faith, a different way of life. The illusion of the palace eventually begins to break down and we seek more in life; what once was lost becomes found, our own magi story, leading us to a place of deeper trust, deeper faith, and deeper love, to continue to allow the incarnation, God made flesh, to change our lives, lead our lives, define our lives, no longer by fear but in and through love.

Navigating Home From Within

Is 60: 1-6; Eph 2: 3-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

There’s not much we can be certain of in life. There is so much unpredictability and unknown that we encounter that it often seems to set us off kilter when things do arise in life. But I believe there is one thing that I’m pretty certain of in life, despite all that is uncertain, and that’s the fact that we all seek and searching for something. We spend a great deal of our lives doing just that, as if we are programmed to go out and try to find something. Heck, the whole commercial industry is based on that one fact. They know, because they are the same, that we are searching and seeking something, they often prey on that and convince us that what they got is going to be our quick-fix and do-it-all. Yet, what I am most certain of is that we seek and search for we already have within us. Now that doesn’t mean that we won’t stop looking and seeking in ways that takes us on many different paths in life, even leading us astray at times, but once we find what it is we are seeking and looking for, we no longer need to participate in that game.

I believe the same is true for this feast that we celebrate today, the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of God’s love. Now this happens long before Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The Israelites were constantly finding themselves in situations where they are seeking the Lord. It takes them everywhere, including exile, leads them into the desert, takes them even into battle, they long and seek and search, and yet, can’t seem to find because they look everywhere other than where it is and has been all along, within. Today, in the reading from Isaiah, they are on return from exile. Jerusalem has always existed, and yet today, they see it in a new way. They see it as a manifestation of God’s faithfulness and love. They come home by a different route and by different eyes and now with a new navigation system as well, being led from within.

The Gospel we once again encounter one of the regular Christmas characters, Herod. We’ve heard his name the past couple weeks, but now in contrast with the Magi who are the archetypal seekers of Scripture. One represents the clamoring of power and seeking it from out, leading to great fear and insecurity for Herod and his people. The people know what he is capable of and live with great fear that he will follow through. Even the announcement of the birth of the Christ child causes great concern. He is classic politician. He goes where the wind blows and has no interior grounding and navigation system. Herod remains lost in his own darkness, insecurity, and fear. A good indicator is the mention of him calling for them in secret; he still lives out of fear rather than the grace of the moment.

These Magi, on the other hand, can’t and don’t settle for that. They should offer us some solace on our own faith journey as that this journey takes them all over, for a great period of time, under not the most conducive conditions, and won’t stop until they find the Christ child, the newborn King. When they do, their navigation begins to shift from the guidance of a star to their own interior navigation; they found the Christ child not only here in the crib, but here, in their heart, the eternal crib of the child. On the fourth Sunday of Advent I spoke of the empty crib. On Christmas I spoke of the fullness of the crib and view life through that lens. Today it isn’t now something that we go visit here at the foot of the altar, but in our very hearts and souls, navigating us through life. The manifestation of God’s love. How do we know they had this encounter, by the very fact that they return home by a different route. They can no longer go back to what was for them because of this encounter. They not only experience the newness of life and being led from their own exile, but they experience death at the same time, letting go of what was and what can no longer be; a life of fear is no more. They now know the lie of seeking “out there” and have found what they have searched for. They are now navigated by a different way and their lives will now become a manifestation of Christmas to the world.

As we journey through this Christmas season and through our faith, we may still be the seekers, looking for something to fill that crib within, and that’s ok; God can work with anything and anyone, and so often we must meet that vulnerable place of ourselves before the journey turns towards Bethlehem. We do that as individuals and even as a community. Nonetheless, we seek and we find and we are changed, converted in the process, letting go of what was in order to make room for what is and is to come. An encounter with the Christ is life-changing. If you’ve had it, you know what I mean; and once the Christ, the Shining Star, is found, you know you are different and can’t go back home the same way. And you know how? Like the Magi, your life takes a different course and me and you become that manifestation, that epiphany, of God’s love to the world.

What I’m Looking For

http:/http://vimeo.com/73577436

Matthew 2: 1-12

Almost every year on this feast there is a song that often comes to mind from back in 1987, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2.  They themselves claim it to be a spiritual song, looking out over their own lives and the often wasteland and emptiness of people looking for happiness and love in all the wrong places and so they are left searching and seeking out that love and acceptance from place to place, wandering. 

 It’s somewhat appropriate because these Magi people we encounter in Matthew’s Gospel today are looking for something in their lives and are left somewhat on a scavenger hunt to find it by following a star that has arisen.  They most likely had traveled a great distance and a great amount of time in actuality, but the story is much more than about actual events as it is these archetypal images that are presented to us of seekers of greater depth and meaning, seekers of love and happiness and they believe it has come into the world through the birth of this new king.  The challenge is finding the gift.

 The natural response of anyone in seeking out a new king would be to go to the seat of power.  Go to Jerusalem and seek out the sitting king, King Herod, to find answers to the star that arose.  It would be no different than us going to Washington, DC, the seat of power, and probably finding much of the same, emptiness and people clamoring for perceived power rather than the real deal.  But they are still searching as well, like us, often in the wrong place.  The Magi come to find out quickly, though, that they haven’t found what they were looking for there.  All they find with Herod is that emptiness, insecurity, and great fear and anxiety, they find a dark king rather than the king, which leaves Herod even more anxious and the seekers wondering where to turn next.  But he too is seeking in his own life and like him, at times we become consumed by the darkness of the travels.  The Magi have traveled to the seat of power and yet have found none, have not found what they were looking for and so the journey must continue, but now with this burden of Herod’s response lingering, seeking the death of this child who is perceived to take away his power; to take away what he wants and yet leaves him empty.  They seeking life while Herod seeking death.

 And so they go.  They go where they would least likely go to find what they are looking for, they find themselves at the house of Mary and Joseph and the newborn child bearing gifts.  Yet, in the midst of all this searching and seeking, they come to find out that what they had looked for they already had; but like so many of us, become distracted by the lures of power and happiness of the outside world rather than journey within.  For these seekers it became a journey out only to find who they were within and to find the true treasure, the Christ, already within them.  They leave their gifts, never to be seen or heard from again, but we can only assume that the encounter with the Christ took them to the ends of the earth proclaiming the good news.  Or maybe that’s the point of the story, when we find what we’re looking for, nothing else really matters, not even ourselves, as the disciples will come to find in their own call.

 We don’t need to travel very far to find what we are looking for, although we often choose to, and that’s ok.  It will often take us to places we’d rather not go.  Each of us chooses a different journey; but these archetypal images of the Magi assure us that the only way we are going to find what we are looking for out there in the world, is to first find it within ourselves. There story is just as much our story.  The gift, the power, the love, is already here.  The Christ is already within.  Sometimes we just need to stop looking and allow ourselves to simply be in the presence of the Lord and not only will we find what we are looking for, but ultimately we will be found by the one looking for us.  Come…let us adore him.