All posts for the month May, 2012


27 May 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Act 2: 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Galations 5: 16-25 + John 15: 26,27 & 16:12-15

That reading from Acts of the Apostles says that the apostles when filled with the spirit began to speak in “foreign tongues.” Another translation says they began to speak “strange languages.” We like the drama of this scene, and we easily want to imagine that there was some great wonder taking place as though I might stand here speaking Mandarin and you would suddenly clearly understand what I was saying to you.

Ou peut-être si je parle français et ceux d’entre vous qui ne parlent pas français soudain sais ce que je veux dire ….

O tal vez si hablo español y aquellos de ustedes que no hablan español repente sé lo que estoy diciendo ….

I am not at all certain that this is what Luke intends to suggest to us.  The thought occurs to me that what Luke might be suggesting is that apostles when filled with the spirit began to talk about things no one else was talking about; using words that no one was using; speaking of things no one had considered before.

How many times have you sat and listened to someone speaking perfectly good English and wondered what in the world they were talking about.  It happens to me all the time. Imagine sitting in on an astro/physics lecture  most of us would not get one idea of what was going on even though the lecture might be in English.

I want to suggest to you that perhaps words like grace, forgiveness, and mercy were just not words anyone was using in those days. Given all that had been going on in Jerusalem, we have reason to suspect that these things, these words, were not much thought about. The langauge of the day was: “crucify him”, “away with him”. Revenge was a word they understood, but mercy? I doubt think so. Perhaps what was really going on was that the apostles were suddenly using words these people simply did not use, and expressing ideas they simply never entertained.

Once they got the idea across, it caused a lot of excitement: these words, these ideas about forgiveness, and grace, and mercy sound pretty good.

It puzzels me that today’s Pentecost atmosphere instead of being filled with excitment about something new is just another repetition of the same old thing. That old saying about familiarity breeding contempt might just as well say the familiarity breeds boredom. Our Christian vocabulay is worn out. We have heard these words before. We have heard these words so often that they hardly excite us, and we seem pretty sure we know what they mean.  But maybe we don’t.

We use these words so often that they have lost their force, and we ought to be wondering how to restore their power to excite and draw people together. Perhaps one way is to use them less often and practice them more consistently. The word, “Peace” has become nothing but a cliche while peacemakers are wildly prophetic. “Combating poverty” is a slogan these days becasue poverty, just like combat has become an abstraction; something we don’t see. The Gospel never says much about “poverty” but it sure says a lot about the poor. In the end, the Gospel only makes sense to those who are committed to living it. To others, it is simply a curious piece of literature.

When you only read the words of the Gospel, it is like looking at the score of a Mozart Concerto instead of playing it or listening to it. That’s a lot better than just looking at notes on a piece of paper. The real wonder of Pentecost, and the surest sign of the Holy Spirit among us is a people doing the Word of God not just reading it. The most convincing sign of the Holy Spirit among us is a people who practice what they preach; who turn the word mercy into an experience never to be forgotten; who forgive as quickly as they seek forgiveness, whose lives are so full of grace that everyone wants to be around them.

A long time ago there was a French worker priest preaching on a street to an indefferent crowd of workers near the docks of Marseilles. Someone in the crowd shouted that he wanted to hear less about Christianity but was very interesed in meeting a real Christian. That is the essence of evangelization. It is what happened in Jerusalem. The speach of the apostles was not nearly as important, as convincing, or as persuasive as was the apostles themselves. The work of the Spirit in us must make us into something new, change us into something exciting, give us credibility because we live the Gospel, not just quote, read it, and study it.

13 May 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Act 10: 25,26,34,35,44-48 + Psalm 22 + 1 John 4: 7-10 + John 15: 9-17

One of the wonderful things about being your pastor is that I can usually set aside time every week to just sit with the Gospel. I hide out from the phone and the computer, and I just sit and wonder, listen and read, study a little about the words, the culture of those ancient days, the language, and finally, imagine what it is God is saying to us. I know that for you it is very different in your lives. You race around from one thing to the next, from work to home, from games to appointments, feeding children, cleaning up, doing laundry, and now the yard work has started. At 70 years of age, I’m not very good a double-tasking any more; but I watch all of you and realize that these few minutes might be all you get this week with the word of God. With the last days of the School year upon us and summer looming out of nowhere, I want you hear three things today from the three readings.

In the first Reading from Acts of the Apostles there is a Pentecost. There are several in the New Testament, not just the one in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit “fell upon all who were listening to the word.”  That is you and me, sitting here listening to the Word. You are filled with the Holy Spirit. Don’t forget that this week.

In the second reading the message is loud and clear: “You are loved.” We never can hear that wonderful news enough. You are loved, my friends. Everyone of us is loved and loveable. Feel it! Believe it! Live like it!

In the third reading: John’s Gospel, we hear one more wonderful piece of news: “You are my friends”, says Jesus. Now granted in a techno world where young people seem to measure their status and image by how many friends they have on “facebook”, this may not seem too exciting; but we’re talking about Jesus Christ, Son of God — who says to us: “You are my friends.” I don’t know about you, but I’ll just settle that one and not be too worried about the list of facebook.

“You are filled with the Holy Spirit. You are Loved. You are my friend.” There is something to think about this week while you’re running around from one thing to the next.

As you do you might also remember a movie I think many of you may have seen last year. Made from a book I thought was more interesting and more in depth than the movie; there is a powerful image for all of this that came to my mind while I was sitting and thinking about the difference between a serant and a friend. In many ways, they do the same things, but for very different reasons. The book and movie was, THE HELP. It is a story about servants and friends. One of those servants, Aibileen is a maid who raises Mae Mobley, a little girl whose mother is disappointed in her daughter’s plain looks and seemingly slow ways. As a result, her mother ignores her child. The maid shows genuine affection and encourages the child’s self-esteem and growth with messages like: “You is kind.” “You is smart.” “You is important.” When little Mae Mobley gets old enough to speak, she repeats the triple affirmation to the maid and adds: “You is my real Mama, Aibee!”

It seems to me that the mother more the servant: someone who out of obligation  does only what they have to do. She provides food, clothing, and shelter for her child, and nothing more than a maid to do the chores. On the other hand, the maid is the friend who does the same things but not of out obligation or guilt but out of love and way more besides.

As a friend of Jesus, we might reexamine what we do and why. No wonder it is so hard to be consistently faithful to Mass, when we’re just doing what we have to do or what someone said we “should” do. It would be a lot better if we were faithful out of love rather than out of duty. Realizing the friendship we have with Jesus Christ is sometimes the task of a lifetime, and sometimes it is the surest sign of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. 

We are filled with the Holy Spirit.

We are loved.

We are friends with Jesus Christ.

What more do we need to know to live with Joy?

What more do we need to know to live in Peace?

What more do we need to know to begin to care for one another, affirm, encourage, build up hold up and lift up each other every single day?

6 May 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Acts 9: 14, 26-31 + Psalm 22 + 1 John 3: 18-24 + John 15: 1-8

In 1863 Edward Everett Hale publishsed a short story in The Atlantic. The story is an allegory about the upheaval of the American Civil War and was meant to promote the cause of the Union against the priority of individual states. In the story, an army lieutenant named Philip Nolan is tried for treason as an accomplice of Aaron Burr. In the trial during his testimony, he bitterly renounces his nation, cursing the nation, and wishing he would never hear of his country again. Upon his convition, the judge grants him that wish, and he spends the rest of his life aboard Navy warkships, in exile with no right ever again to set foot on U.S. soil and explicit orders that no one should ever mention his country to him again. The sentence is carried out to the letter. He is moved from ship to ship, and no one in charge of him speaks to him about the U.S. Even his newspapers are censord. Unrepentant at first, he becomse sadder and wiser over the years and desperate for news. Deprived of a homeland, he slowly and painfully learns the true worth of his country. He misses it more than friends and family, more than music or love or nature. Without it, he knows he is nothing.

I think of that short-story when I hear Jesus saying: “Remain in me.” For as independent as we all like to think we are, as human beings we desperately need to belong. Broken families in disfunctional neighborhoods breed gangs. Desperate victims of injustice band together with others who are angry and helpless making terrorist cells. To this deep human need Jesus speaks. Over forty times in John’s Gospel this word appears. In English it appears in slightly different ways even though it is the same in the original language: “abide”, “stay”, “remain” are the mosts often used, but they all translate the same wish, the same desire, the same hope. “Stay”  is perhaps for us today the most powerful. “Stay.” says Jesus to us. 

When the apostles first meet Jesus, he asks them: “What are you looking for?” They respond: “Where do you stay?” They were not asking for his address. They wanted to know where his roots were, what anchored him so solidly, what gave him such vision and peace, and how he came to have such confidence and purpose. With another story in John’s Gospel, people brought to Jesus by the Samaritan woman “stay” with him for two days. Discipleshhip in John’s Gospel means staying with Jesus, abiding in him, or as we hear it spoken today: “remaining” in him walking the walk of his life all ending in the symbol of the vine.

There is a vine growing on a fence over at the rectory, and I took a close look at it as I was reflecting on this gospel. It is a curious thing. Unlike a tree with a trunk and obvious branches, there is not such a clear distinction between the vine and the branches. I could not distinguish one branch from the vine. The whole vine is the branhes at which point the symbol becomes obvious. The disciples become the master. The branches are the vine. The oneness he seeks with us is that complete.

Take note that Jesus says: “I am the vine.”  He does not say: “I am like a vine.” There is something more essential being said here. There is something more to do with our very being, our identity, our purpose or calling. This is not about being “like” something, it is about actually “being” something. No imitation, no acting like, not even any “trying”. It is a call to a new kind of existence, a new identity, a new way of being, living, thinking, seeing, and believing!

“Remain”, “Stay”, says Jesus to us today. It is a plea, and an invitation to enter into a relationship, a friendship, a bond that is life-giving, and lasting. As the text continues next week, we are drawn deeper into an understanding of what Jesus offers and asks of us: a loving friendship in which one is willing to die for the sake of the other. This is not a fanatical kind of self-martyrdom motivated out of anger or hatred for an enemy; but pure love that generates more pure love.

Staying with, or remaining with Jesus is  both a personal experience and a communal one. Thos who know Jesus, those who have explored, accepted, and lived in an ongoing and real friendship with this risen one are then drawn together through that relationship to become what we have called: “Church.” I am coming to believe that those who do not remain as church have not yet found their identity and their made their frindship with Christ. Being “Spiritual”,  is not being “Church.” Being spiritual is a individual’s effort to find their identity outside the vine, and sooner or later, it fails or dies. The individualism of this day is but the latest way of trying to find life away from the vine, apart from Christ  who is revealed, living within and the very reality of “Church” itself: the Body of Christ.

Hear him today speak to us all once more in this Easter Season: “Remain in me.” We cannot remain in this world and be of this world. We are the branches of this vine, and apart from this vine, we can do nothing, we will be nothing, and we will have nothing.