Love’s Eye

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

I was talking to some new pastors this week up at the seminary so of course part of the conversation was on prayer.  It is not only central to us priests but to all of us.  I was surprised when one of them had told me that he didn’t pray.  So, of course, I asked him why, and as surprised as I was to hear that he didn’t pray I wasn’t all surprised by the why because I had heard in many times before.  When I finally sit down to pray, to stop, to quiet down, it seems at that point my mind takes off, a million miles a minute along with all my fears and anxieties, unresolved conflict, and all the rest begin to surface.  That’s the reason why you have to pray in those moments.

I use the example often, now that we are into the summer and it is hurricane season, to imagine a satellite image of a hurricane.  Most have a well-defined eye.  Crazy enough, that’s where you want to be in the hurricane.  It’s the place where the sun shines.  There’s peace and tranquility.  That’s the place of center we take with us into the storm, into the million miles a minute, otherwise the wall collapses and the storm consumes our lives.  This feast we celebrate today at the end of the Easter Season defines our center, that place of peace and tranquility that is hopefully leading us and navigating us through the storms of our own lives, as individuals, community, country, and world.  We certainly know that that’s not always the case.

When the early community begins to form and that we heard of throughout this Easter season from Acts of the Apostles, they too found themselves often trying to find that center and allowing it to be their navigation tool through often tumultuous times.  It was not an easy go for them when community was beginning to form around this new identity in Christ.  Like any community, there is self-interest, there are people that are trying to satisfy their own needs, there are people that are trying to drag us into their own storms, into the chaos of their own lives that will often challenge that center, that navigation tool.

The same was true for Corinth in whom Paul writes today.  It’s a section of that letter that we are all familiar with when he speaks of different gifts but the same spirit being manifested in the life of the community.  He’ll go onto to speak about the different parts yet one body and culminate in the next chapter with his message of love that we are familiar with from weddings.  There was dissension in the ranks of the community because they thought one person’s gift was better than the other, thinking that speaking in tongues was somehow better than the rest.  It created riffs.  Like the world we often find ourselves in today, there was selfish motivation, which of course, at that point, loses its purpose of being a gift in the first place!  One gift is not somehow better than the other, but rather, Paul will go onto say that no matter the gift and no matter the person, at the center of the community, the great navigation tool, will be that of love.  That becomes the eye of the storm and it becomes the navigation tool that the disciples will have to take into the storms that await them on that Easter day.

There seems to be no great Pentecost experience with them when we encounter them in today’s Gospel.  There they are, caught in the midst of a wild storm as the witnessed the death of Jesus, the one who had been their center up to this point.  For John, though, he’s going to want to take us back to the beginning and not to just the beginning of the gospel but back to the beginning of Genesis, when God breathes life into creation.  Here we are now, locked in the upper room, filled with fear and doubt, wondering and questioning, feeling like they’re being consumed by the storm and all that they had known falling down around them, and Jesus appears.  But not to just pick back up where they had left off on Good Friday but to give them a new center that goes deep within them and yet so far beyond them.  Jesus breathes on them, not just into their mouths, but into their very being the gift of the Spirit.  That will become their place of authority, their place of deep love, their own navigation tool as we see them go forward throughout Acts of the Apostles.

As we draw this Easter season to a close today, we pray for that same Spirit to be breathed into us, making us aware of where our center is in life.  Do we find ourselves much more comfortable in the storminess, chaos, fear and anxiety, that at times consumes our lives or are we being led to a place of peace that expands truth and makes space within us for all peoples?  Maybe we’re at a place where we need to quiet down, slow down, even if our minds want to go a million miles an hour.  That’s exactly where that navigation tool is leading us, to expand that place of peace and tranquility within us.  The last thing the world needs is more chaos, fear, and anxiety.  It leads us to reacting to everything that comes our way, sucking us into the storminess of lives and feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Like the disciples, on this day God desires to breathe that life, that Spirit into each of us so rather than being defined by the storminess we become the agents of change by brining that navigation tool, that eye, that deep source of love to an often hurting world to bring about the redemption that is freely given to each of us.

 

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.

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.