All posts for the month August, 2002

The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

August 25, 2002

Isaiah 22:19-23 + Romans 11:33-36 + Matthew 16:13-20

We stand in the face of raw power today. It is a power greater than any known source of energy. Greater than the universe and its boiling stars, greater than the fusion of atoms, greater than the wind and the sea and all that is in them. It is the source of the greatest cures and miracles and healings. It is the power exercised by Christ Jesus, rooted in the faith, and given to those who will call it by name and embrace its potential.

It is the greatest of the miracles. It is greater than anything we’ve heard so far in Matthew’s Gospel. It is greater than water into wine or the raising of Lazarus. It is greater than walking on water. It is greater that restoring sight to blind people or strength to the lame. It is the power given to those who have named Christ their Lord and accepted the new identity that Christ has come to bestow upon his believers. It is the power of Forgiveness.

The greatest weapons used by the greatest armies have no power to bring peace. The power of wealth, privilege, and position are inadequate. We cannot buy, bribe, force, nor reason our way to peace in Ireland, the Middle East, Central America, in our families, between friends, nor in our hearts. It only has one source: Forgiveness.

The power of forgiveness is the gift Jesus provides in the Gospel today. It is the turning point of Matthew’s Gospel. Having been dazzled and awe struck by the things that Jesus has done, we will, in the weeks to come shift our attention toward Jerusalem and what will happen there. The seed is planted in us that bears fruit in understanding the Passion and Death of Christ as he experienced it and rose from it. The power he had to rise above the betrayal, the abandonment, the hatred, the questioning of his motives and sincerity, his own wonder about God’s care for him all are wiped away by the power he used as he was nailed to a cross: “Father, Forgive them.”

We are a church, as Matthew says, founded by and upon the power of forgiveness. Not one of the apostles more clearly models that truth than Peter, who no sooner answers the question: “Who do people say that I am?” than he says in the courtyard of Pilate: “I do not know the man.”

Peter, and you and I know about forgiveness. We want to have it all the time, but are often too give it. We are church gifted with an ancient and wise tradition rooted in a ritual we fail to use wisely. Lately some have chosen to hide in the crowd and enjoy the convenience of “Communal Penance Rites” and while those rites might well maintain a level of communal prayer and demonstrate our public confession of need; they leave unattended a greater need of confession. I have often found it curious that many find healing and discover the deep meaning of the Incarnation not in their churches, but in A.A. or other Twelve Step Programs where they come to the awareness of God’s healing presence in the confessing community of those who dare to search for healing.

None of us can really feel loved and cared for when we have to hide our sins and failings. The expression of love from another gets blocked when our minds say: “If you only knew the feelings I have sometimes or the things I’ve done, you wouldn’t be saying you loved me.

Even in our relationship with God, there is forgiveness to share, and I’ve come to discover in recent years that it isn’t bad to forgive God now and then and keep alive a relationship of love and trust. “I will give you the keys.” says Jesus. With them, we can unlock more than the Kingdom of Heaven. We can open the human heart and the wounded soul. We can open the boundaries of hatred and dissolve generations of memories that retell and repeat atrocities of the past. We can recreate broken friendships and restore unity. Best of all, with this gift and this power, we can endure every trial, know peace and embrace love.

The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

August 18, 2002

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 + Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 + Matthew 15:21-28

It is the third of a series of miracle stories leading us to what is probably the most significant event in Matthew’s Gospel outside of the Passion Narrative. It comes next week.

Like two before, this one is not what it seems to be on the surface. A deeper look at the text; the setting, the characters, the narrative conversation, and the interplay of words and deeds gives us reason to see and hear more than what Mark provides in his earlier telling of this story.

With Mark, it is a simple matter of a miracle cure.

With Matthew, we have reason to wonder: “Where is the miracle?”

There are seven verses here. Only one of them is devoted to a cure. Jesus says: “Let it be done for you as you wish. And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.” That’s all there is to it.

But six other verses concern Jesus and the disciples revealing what may seem to be a rather shocking attitude of disinterest and dismissal.

The first clue that there is something really important here is the language. Matthew uses terms that are archaic for his time. Tyre and Sidon, Canaanite, Son of David, God of Israel: these terms are not in use at the time in which Matthew sets the story. It would be like referring to someone from the State of Georgia as a “reb” or a “Confederate.” The only possible reason for using that kind of language would be to suggest some other inference or some other reference by the language. These terms in Matthew’s text are old, out of date, and heavily rooted in Old Testament overtones that would suggest that the attitude here is an old one – an old prejudice that has been around for a long, long time.

Even Jesus seems subject to this prejudice. He doesn’t look so good in this situation. The one who proposes leaving 99 and going after the 1 who is lost is about to pass by this woman without even a word. He won’t even acknowledge her presence! The disciples, with the most disgraceful of motives, force him to deal with her because they’re tired of her pestering. They don’t like her either.

Now if you stand back and look at this picture, ask the question:

“What is more significant and surprising here, the cure of this woman’s daughter or the fact that Jesus and these disciples change their mind and decide to share what they have with someone they don’t particularly care for?”

This is a miracle story all right, but it is not the miracle we might first suspect. While the story certainly has some historical elements, it reveals more about us, the early church, and Jesus Christ than we may be comfortable with seeing.

At the same time it reveals something of God as well.

Unpleasant as it is to admit, most of this world is under our table waiting for some scraps to fall. We are very conscious about what is ours, and we are very determined to keep it. This Jesus of history and his disciples are very conscious of their privileged position among the “Chosen People.” They are Jews, not “Canaanites.” They are very aware of their power and their privilege.

In the story, I believe they heard the voice of God. It sounded like a woman foreigner who came begging, not for herself, but for her child. The miracle is: their change. What they considered theirs alone, they decided to share, perhaps not for the best reasons at first, but eventually they got it right. Perhaps we may be hearing the voice of God calling to us from under the table, across the border, or with an accent.

The miracle stories are not all told, and the best of them are not about healing. They are about conversions and changes in the human heart. They tell of enemies that begin to speak to one another, of ancient distrusts and prejudice collapsing in the face of grace and the real truth about our relationship to one another and our God.

Perhaps we might listen today very quietly and carefully to see if God is calling out to us, and hope that God has not and will not, like the woman of the Gospel, give up on us.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St Mark Church in Norman, OK

August 15, 2002

Revelation 11:19-12:6 + 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 + Luke 1:39-56

Song, Prayer, and Scripture weave together to make this Feast. In some ways, they all three boil down to a lot of words: words sung, words spoken, words heard.

As a result, I’m not sure we can really get the point. It’s almost as though there is simply too much here, certainly too many words. Words of John in the Book of Revelation,

words of Paul in First Corinthians, words of Luke in the Gospel, all trying to awaken in us the Spirit and Faith of this woman whose faith and trust in God changed the face of the earth.

Luke weaves together a string of texts from the Psalms, and he puts them in the mouth of this young Hebrew woman in the story of her visit to Elizabeth.

It is a chapter filled with extraordinary poetry when words and images dance with life and promise. Among those words, leaping from the psalms come ten words that say it all,

that give purpose, meaning, and motive to our assembly today. They are the reason why we are here today at noon and not having lunch at mid – day on a Thursday in August.

They are the reason we are here tonight and not at home clearing the supper table. They are the reason why we are here, in Norman, Oklahoma.

They are the reason for all that we do. Many of us have learned by memory ancient prayers and sacred words that have the power to turn our minds to God.

The Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Prayer before meals, the Act of Contrition, the Creed, the Memorari, the Angelus, and the list goes on into cultural traditions. Late in my life, I learned another prayer, Mary’s prayer, more authentic, more deeply rooted in our Jewish/Christian tradition than any of the others.

It is prayer the Church lifts up to God every evening of every day. It is the test of this day’s Gospel. If you haven’t learned it, begin today. If it seems too long to learn quickly, then get one verse and go from there. Get it right, and say every day. Simply speaking those words should pull us to our knees in humble gratitude, or bring us to our feet in wild joy. The one verse that captures the spirit of the whole prayer is the reason we are here today or tonight, the reason we have come to sing, to pray, and hear the Word of God………………

“God who is mighty has done great things for me.”

If anyone asks you why you went to church today: Or why you go to church every Sunday, Why you give, why you pray, why you sing, why you have hope, or joy, there is only response.

It is the reason for this day, for this season, for this place: “God who is mighty has done great things for me.”

The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

August 8, 2002

1 Kings 19:9-13 + Romans 9:1-5 + Matthew 14:2-33

It takes some thinking to figure out where the miracle is.

It is not Jesus walking on water.

That image is an old one found in the Old Testament: in Job 9:8, Psalm 77, and Isaiah 43. God walks on water. No big deal here. That surprised nobody in Matthew’s church who knew his or her scriptures.

Keep the story in context. We are dealing here with Food provided by God last week, and a water passage this week.

These are serious Exodus events: food in the desert, passage through water.

But there is a miracle here, and like last week, this one concerns a change in the disciples rather than something Jesus did. Last week they stopped their whining about what they didn’t have and celebrated what they did have. This week think of it this way as I propose an alternate reading to this Gospel story, and you will get the point and see the miracle…….

“Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was, he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he turned around and swam back to the boat while the other disciples threw him a line and pulled back on board.”

Or maybe it could go this way:

“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you come over here and get in the boat.”

The miracle here is not about Jesus. It is about a fisherman getting out of a boat in the middle of a storm, and what happens to him because of it. If he had stayed in that boat, or turned back when it got really scary, nothing would ever have happened. But he did not stay in the boat, and because he was willing to take the risk and get out; because he reached out to the Lord who was reaching out to him, Peter experienced the power of God, and for moment, I believe he stepped into the Kingdom of God.

Peter had to leave the boat and risk his life on the sea in order to learn both his own weakness and the almighty power of his Savior. Only by doing so did he come to faith. It cannot be different for us. We all sit in our little boats, thinking we are safe and sound, but those boats rock and they sink. They get swamped, and they turn over. The stock market fails us. Our houses burn down or blow away. Health fails. A loved one dies, or we find ourselves abandoned or divorced. Friends turn on us. We lose a job. We sit in our boats, and Jesus walks by, and he invites us to get out, because faith does not mean sitting and waiting. It means getting free from everything except God alone, knowing and acting as if only God can save, protect, and get us home.

The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus: “Come.” The only possible way to be a disciple of Jesus is to take the step. We saw it last week when they were willing to find out what Jesus could do with what they had. We see it again this week as we discover what Jesus can do if we are willing to get out of the boat, so to speak. The miracle at which we marvel this week is what God can do for those who will get out of their boats and reach out to the one who calls. The miracle is what happens to Peter or anyone for that matter who imagines that they are losing it all, and will reach and out and cry out: Lord, Save me.”

The story ends with the winds dying down and the disciples bowing down before Jesus in adoration. In a historical sense, this does not make sense because Jesus has not yet risen from the dead. The title: “Son of God” could not have occurred to them yet, but Matthew gives us a glimpse of the end of time. Those who trust in God rather than their boats, those who reach out after responding to their call, are at peace. They shall be found in the Heavenly Kingdom.

None of us will ever know what God can do for us much less know what the Kingdom of Heaven is like unless we get out of the boat and go toward the Son of God.

The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

August 4, 2002

Isaiah 55:1-3 + Romans 8:35-39 + Matthew 14:13-21

The first of two miracle stories is our focus in liturgy today; and after them comes a miracle of another sort. There is so much going on here! There has been a violent death in the family of Jesus. Herod has murdered John, the cousin of Jesus. In grief Jesus seeks solitude, but it isn’t to be his. The crowds come on foot the long way around the lake, and his grieving time is cut short by a show of mercy and compassion. There is a triangle here of interaction: Jesus, the Disciples, and the Crowd. There is Jesus, there are those in need, and there are those in service.

Matthew has something to say about all three of them.

In Jesus we see compassion and mercy revealed through an act, a prayer, and a command that for any Christian of the Table is thoroughly Eucharistic. The verbs used here are not a coincidence: take, bless, break, and give.

In the crowd we see the world, hungry for Jesus, longing for food, searching for Messiah. They make every effort and try every way to find him, even when he seems to be in hiding. They are not disappointed.

In the disciples, we see ourselves. While there may be some of the “crowd” in us, let us not avoid the challenge of discipleship by being more comfortable among the crowd. Our search is over – we know who we are, we are here after all, in this church today. It is too easy to sit back and just be fed. It is time to go to work – to hear what he says to us. “Give them something to eat.”

We see in these disciples something of ourselves, and we’ll see it next week as well. “Five loaves and two fish is all we have.” they say. “It is not enough.” they think. All they can think about is what they do not have, and so they fail to see what they do have in the one who is with them. What an insight into human nature! Whining about what they do not have, these very human disciples, very much like us, do not see what can be done with five loaves and two fish and with Jesus Christ. If left to themselves, they will send everyone away in misery and disappointment and fend themselves; and they would never see what God can do.

Jesus will not let it be so. In the Greek version of Matthew, the command that Jesus gives them is the strongest and most harsh form of the verb. It is as though he literally screams at them: GIVE THEM SOMETHING! Stop whining about what you don’t have! That attitude and a focus on what is lacking suggests that somehow God does not provide – and somehow what God does provide is going to run out, or be inadequate. Disciples of Jesus Christ cannot think that way or act that way.

God uses what we bring, but we cannot make manifest a God of compassion and walk in the footsteps of a merciful Jesus if we are holding out, holding back, fearful that we shall run out or not have what it takes. This Gospel goes to the heart of the matter when it comes to faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Those people trusted him – they went out of their way and sought him at great cost and great risk. The least they can expect is that disciples will give them what they have come to find. There is not a lot left over – there is no hint of abundance here if you understand the measure proposed. The little bit left over is not much when compared to the amount consumed. This Gospel does not talk about abundance and grand, huge, displays of some extra ordinary proportion. It talks about simple things like fish and bread the basic stuff of life. This Gospel talks about mercy and compassion, about the role of disciples, and about their attitude and way of looking at what they have and why they have it. In the end, it is about little people and little things with which God will accomplish great things.

The miracle in this story may not really be what at first we thought it to be. The miracle here may not be about fish and bread, but about attitude and compassion, generosity and trust. I suspect that after the food was cleared away, the ones most touched, changed, and filled with wonder were the very ones who thought that they had nothing. The crowd just simply went away.