All posts for the month May, 2013

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)

Proverbs 8, 22-31 + Psalm 8 + Romans 5, 1-5 + John 16, 12-15

God is good! (All the time!) Say that again like you mean it!
Now this has been quite a week to remember. I think today it is important to pick out what it is we want to remember and how we want to remember it because we are a lot like the disciples of Jesus on those days after his death clinging desperately to the shreds of their hope, shaken by the things that have happened and wondering what it all means.

Since this week has been so out of the ordinary, so shall this homily be a bit out of the ordinary because: God is good! (all the time). Pick up your hymnal please and stand up. Open that hymnal to page number XXX. In light of the week we have just passed in central Oklahoma, there is only one response possible from people of faith to the power of this disaster. It is the greater power of faith. (Sing: My life goes on in endless song above earth’s lamentations, I hear the real though far off hymn that hails the new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord if heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing.)

Storms, wind, and rain are a part of life just like diseases and accidents. We live in a world full of dangers and risk, and it is fair and perhaps important to ask where is God in this? You can’t blame God for a tornado if you don’t give God credit for a teacher who shields a child with her own body or a man who crawls under a collapsing wall to pull a stranger to safety. We see the most awesome people and hear stories of selflessness and sacrifice. Then we see looters and theives snatching up the last bits of precious memories from people who now have nothing left. We are a people of dignity and depravity. Times like these bring out the best and the worst of our nature, and the storms of last Sunady and Monday blew away more than roofs and entire homes. They blew away the mask from the nature of human kind.

What we can see, learn, and understand this week is not the power of Mother Nature, but the truth of human nature. When the storms of life blow in, our true nature is revealed. The storms of life, all of them remind us of what is important again. No one who survived last Sunday and Monday has been seen yelling about the loss of their 50” flat screen TV or their golf clubs. We mourn for people who were lost and rejoice for people who are found. That is who we are and what we are as children of God and disciples of God’s Son: a people who can morun for the right reasons and rejoice becasue God is Good!

Something about people huddled in a storm cellar fearful and anxious keeps reminding me of a crowd of people huddled in an upper room fearful and anxious, uncertain about what was happening outside and what the next day was going to be like. But they had been told and they believed that they would be robed in glory and experience power from on high. Confused about what that glory would look like, all they could remember was the sight of the Son of Man dirty, bloody, and broken hanging on a cross. What kind of glory was that? Yet, they held to their hope, remained together, encouraged one another, and clung to the rock of their faith, and somehow, slowly for some and in an instant for others, that broken, bloody, friend who loved them all rose up robed in glory.

His victory is the hope we share. His glory is ours rising above the storms of life. His strength is what we find in our unity as a family in faith. His joy is what we know when we see one another again after one more storm of life fully aware that there will be more storms again, and we shall keep on singing.

This feast of the Holy Trinity is a really good day to remember what we just heard Paul proclaim to the Romans: “Affliction produces endurance, and endurance proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, becasue the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

As John’s Gospel assures us: God will take from Christ what is his and declare it us. With that good news, we can keep on singing because we know and we believe that God is Good. ALL THE TIME!

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)

Acts of the Apostles 2, 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Romans 8, 8-17 + John 14, 15-16; 23-26

All the Old Testament signs of God’s presence are there: a thundering noise like the one heard at Sinai; a whirlwind like the one from which God spoke to Job; flames of fire like Moses saw at Mount Horeb, and then there is that breath bringing them back. Their leader, teacher, and friend is gone; and with him all their hopes and dreams, vision and expectations about what could be. Dead is their courage and joy. The power that called Lazarus to life, gave sight to the blind, lifted the lame, sought the lost, included those left out of life, and spoke of peace has gone. Then comes that noise, the wind, the fire, and his breath was suddenly in them, in that room, and then everywhere they went.

As always it is easy to sit with the story of Pentecost and look backward thinking as though it was something that happened on the 50th day after the resurrection, something that happened to a group of followers sitting around and waiting for something because he told them to. If that is the best we can do with this Gospel, we should have all stayed home.

This is not a story from the past. This is a revelation of the church. It is our belief and our understanding of who we are and what we are. It speaks best and maybe only to people who have broken hearts, who have been blind to the presence of Christ in others, who have been shamefully ambitious, selfish, and people who have experienced the death of hope or the death of someone they relied on, loved, and trusted. That is who was in that room, and that is the people in this room.

Because we are here and because of God’s promise, those who remain here will have life breathed into them. The key to this messsage, the key that unlocks it’s power and revelation is that word and that experience of remaining. It is the unity. It is the communion. It is the bond of faith and hope that makes a dwelling place for the Spirit. Like those people in John’s gospel, we are in another period of the Lord’s absence: the time between the Lord’s Ascension and his final coming in glory. During this time, we remain as he asked, and while we remain the Holy Spirit is our advocate, comforter, ally, guide, and inspiration. This is no time for fear, disappointment, or sadness. We are not a people without hope and a vision of what is to come. The Spirit he has sent is our advisor in times of decision and our comfort in times of illness and tragedy. The Spirit he has sent is our guide leading us to forgiveness, justice, love and peace. The Spirit is fuel that feeds the fire of our passion for service, the salve that heals. The Spirit is the reason for victorious living rather than defeated life.

Yet, the times in which we live are spirit starved times. Impatient and unwilling to remain too many have gone off on their own and rather than wait for the glory of God’s Kingdom to be revealed. They are satisfied, but only for a moment, with the glory of a passing world. Everywhere we see the unity for which Christ prayed collapsing into the fog of individualism and privitized lives. “One nation under God” has become “whoever has the most wins.” Ideological warfare is breaking us into factions. Remaining in love is too hard. It’s easier to quit rather than work at healing and forgiving. “On demand” entertainment has driven us further apart even in our leasure. Families and friends who once sat together to watch a game or some favorite show now stare at screeens alone watching “on demand”. The technology even affects us as a church. Mass “on demand”, Mass when I want it, or when it fits into my schedule arranged around the things that really matter means no parish unity, identity or loyalty. It’s all private, and it’s all mine.

In John’s Gospel today, Christ breathes on those who remained in that room infusing them with his Spirit. He unleashes in them the power of the Spirit, who alone can bring peace and joy in the wake of terrifying woundedness. He asks them to open themselves to the gift of the Spirit that allows them to receive and give forgiveness which is the only thing that can clear the air from the smoke of hatred and violence so that all can breathe in peace for which we long and which the risen One desires to give. Let me suggest to you that this breath means an intimacy with God that is as close as our every breath taken deeply into our lungs thousands of times a day. Just as breath must be exhaled, and cannot be kept within, so to does the Spirit’s power direct us outward to mission, exuding the love, peace, and forgiveness we have inhaled from the Living One.

MAY 12, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Acts of the Apostles 1, 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Hebrews 9: 24-28; 10, 19-23- + Luke 24, 46-53

Probably set up by various artists who painted their vision of the Ascension, I would wonder about this scene so simply described as “he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” I’m not sure why that line got my attention except that I’m a “visual” person and that sort of thing gets my imagination going. When my brain catches up to my imagination, I realize that there is a line just a little earlier that is a lot more interesting: “but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

“Clothed with power from on high!” Now there is something to think about: power. We like it. We use. We abuse it. We encourage it. We want it. It is good when we have it. It is bad when someone else has more. From our earliest days as children we fantasize about power. There are, after all, Power Rangers, Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man 1, 2, and now 3.

Perhaps this fascination with power begins early because we are so powerless. Consequently power becomes all consuming. Trouble comes because we never seem to grow up. About the time we get finished with the action figures, we discover another power that can be physical, political, social, or economic all leading us around in circles manipulating, using, abusing, oppressing those who do not have as much. Sometimes we use our power to liberate others, but by the time we are finished liberating them they begin to wonder if it was worth it when they look at the death and devastation their liberation cost. Meanwhile I don’t think there is much evidence that we have begun to  discover much less explore what it means to be “clothed with power from on high.”

I watch our young people all the time, and I wonder all that time what we are teaching them about power; what kind of power we are handing on to them, and how are we teaching them to use that power. If you have not begun to wonder about that, I wish you would. I am going to leave you in a little while, and I would like to leave you wondering about a few things, thinking seriously and deeply about them, and asking more questions. I do not want to leave you smug and confident thinking you have all the answers.

In studying this text, I came across a book entitled: “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey” by Maya Angelou telling the story of her grandmother who raised her in the little town of Stamps, Arkansas. Maya describes her grandmother as “a tall cinnamon-colored woman with a deep, soft voice,” whose difficult life caused her to rely utterly on the power of God. Get that: “whose difficult life caused her to rely utterly on the power of God. Difficult life? Look at us! I know some of you have difficult days; but most of us don’t have a clue about difficult days. I open the refrigerator to figure out what to eat, not whether or not there is anything to eat. I open my closet to select what to wear, not see if there is anything to wear. So, lacking difficult days, we don’t much rely on the power of God, we would rather rely on our own power: political, economic, social, or military.

Angelou envisioned her Mama “standing thousands of feet up in the air on nothing visible,” when she would draw herself up to her full six feet, clasp her hands behind her back, look up into a distant sky, and declare, “I will step out on the word of God.” “Immediately,” Angelou recalls, “I could see her flung into space, moons at her feet and stars at her head, comets swirling around her. Naturally it wasn’t difficult for me to have faith. I grew up knowing that the word of God has power.” Don’t you wonder if any of our children grow up thinking that the Word of God has power?

So here we are with images of Jesus being “taken up” into the sky after spending a life time stepping out on the word of God. The disciples want to know if now is the time he will restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus does not answer their questions, but points to the power of the Holy Spirit with which they will be clothed.

They stand there looking up and see nothing. Then they look at each other clothed with the power from on high to turn away from anything that stands between them and the divine one who calls them to glory. Their work is to teach others that same trust in the power of the word to uphold them, fill them with joy, and lead them to glory. This is power; the Word of God. This is the future. This is the way peace, and our only hope for glory and for joy.

Easter 6

MAY 5, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Acts of the Apostles 15, 1-2, 22-29 + Psalm 67 + Revelation 21, 10-14, 22-23- + John 14, 23-29

Pease was a dangerous idea and goal for the early Christians living in the Roman Empire. It still is, even though the Roman Empire is gone, and lots of other Empires with and after it. There was a time called the “Pax Romana”; the Roman Peace; but that kind of peace was maintained by occupational forces that raped, looted, taxed, and enslaved all opposition. It was sustained by crucifying rebels, and worshiping Roman gods. That kind of peace was not a good fit for the gift of Christ and mission of his disciples. Those disciples followed a man who preached that peace came from healing, forgiving, and serving others especially those in need and marginalized by others. To make it worse, these followers worshiped a God who opposed violence: a God whose Son said: “Put up your sword. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

Times change, but it seems that empires do not, but neither does the heart and the soul of those who follow Jesus of Nazareth. Impatience with diplomacy is all to obvious. Readiness to choose military solutions to complex global problems is everywhere. Those who advocate the wisdom of talk and patience are looked upon as weak, indecisive, or naive. From playgrounds to neighborhoods, from Board Rooms to Bedrooms many seek peace by ignoring conflict, and some think they can have peace by shouting down people who disagree with them. It’s an odd kind of peace. Just as odd as the Pax Romana was an odd and very temporary kind of peace that was not peace at all.

More than the absence of overt conflict, the peace that Christ proclaims, the peace that binds together and motivates the Christian community is a living relationship rooted in love and the passionate desire for the good of all resting upon justice, respect, forgiveness, and patience. The willingness, readiness, and desire for true justice is the first step to Peace. This justice has nothing to do with punishment or revenge. In fact, there is little liklihood of justice being done when any hint of anger or revenge or desire to punish is involved. The justice modeled by Jesus and motivating his disciples is never about rights. It is always about the duty that comes from having rights. The true Christian understanding of Justice is not some abstract thing concerned with weighing arguments and enforcing legislative decisions. It is action directed toward the well-being of the other and the common good. It is never about power. It is always about service.

The exercise of Justice rests upon respect, a respect that begins with respect for life itself and the sourse of all life. It is a respect that sees in every human face the face of God. When this virtue takes hold of us, there is no longer an enemy there is only someone to love, for in doing so, as I said last week, we come to love God and know God’s love for us which is the consequence of our love for one another.For me after 45 years of listening to this Gospel and digging deeper and deeper into it, I am beginning to realize that this Peace which Jesus would leave us begins to blossom when we respond rather than react, when we are willing to listen rather than talk, when we choose to whisper rather than shout, when we are willing to wait and to hope, to forgive and forget, to laugh at ourselves and dry the tears of another, and most of all to wait and to watch, to welcome without fear, and to wonder in awe at the diversity and beauty of God’s creation. As we begin to do so, I think we are suddenly going to find ourselves back where we started in paradise, in the Kingdom of God, a heavenly peace.