All posts for the month November, 2013

Isaiah 2, 1-5 + Psalm 122 + Roman 13, 11-14 + Matthew 24, 37-44

On Board the MS Eurodam

There is a danger with this word “Advent” made all the more so by the customs that have grown up around the idea that comes to mind when someone says: “Advent”. The fact that we observe “Advent” just before the feast of Christmas does not help. The risk is that we begin to think that Advent is a “Season”; a time of prayerful preparation and readiness for Christmas, a time for confession and Penance Rites in some places, a time for lighting candles and wearing purple or violet vestments. Really traditional Catholics would be uncomfortable with Christmas decorations before the end of Advent. All of this keeps us trapped in an unfortunate state of mind that then leaves us to think that Advent is simply about the four weeks before Christmas.

There is a lot more to Advent than this however, and today’s readings raise that issue. For those who might want to take their faith more seriously, Advent is a way of life, not a season. It is a way of living with a kind of readiness, openness, and joyful anticipation that Christ has come and that Christ will come again today. In the present moment.

This life style is in sharp contrast to the fast-lane life of our culture where everything must happen fast, where there is no waiting, and every wish and desire, pleasure and plan must be accessible and granted without delay. People who have not begun to live the Advent life-style are always impatient, always at the edge of anger and sometimes over the edge. This impatience can make nice people rude, and they become poor witnesses to their faith.

While old age is rarely considered a blessing with all its aches and pains, there is often a wisdom found with age. It is a wisdom manifested in an ability to wait, to make time for others, to find time to wait, to watch, to listen, and to grow ready without any rushing or stomping around or growing anger. These are the people who will pause in the grocery store check-out line for a compliment or kind word to the checker who has been standing there for six or seven hours. These are people who do not even know where the horn is on their car. They wait and wave pedestrians safely across. They hold the door for others. They smile, and are always the first to say, “Thank you.”

This is a life-style lived in readiness for the coming of Christ. Those who choose to live a life of Advent are always looking for and always looking at the face of Christ. Advent for them has little to do with Christmas presents, Carols, Shopping, Cards, and Parties. It has to do with living every minute in the expectation that Christ is here; next door, behind us, ahead of us, in the poor, the dirty, the old, the sick, the Republican, the Democrat, the homeless, the child whose crying annoys us on an airplane or in the parent who cannot calm the child. You see, this life style is full of life, and adventure, readiness, and surprises. It is a life-style that looks a lot like the life of Christ.

I wonder sometimes how this culture in which we live, that idolizes youthfulness and worships children could handle it if God had decided to set the Incarnation up and have Christ come as an old man, feeble, forgetful, and ugly. I wish some artist would someday paint or draw a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and Angels gathered around a bed in a nursing home. That artist would have begun to understand Advent, and through that understanding lead us to a more profound understanding of what the Incarnation of God in human flesh is all about.

Jesus is speaking to you and to me today about Advent as a life-style for disciples. His instruction does not propose that living an Advent life-style is a passive or lazy kind of sitting around waiting for something to happen. Real Advent people get impatient, but never for themselves. They get impatient for others who have been used and abused, shut out and left out of a share in this world’s bounty and denied the respect and the dignity that is theirs because they are God’s own. Real Advent people might get angry but never for themselves. They get angry for the week and the frail, the poor and the helpless being pushed around and used for profit by those who expect and wait for nothing but the improvement of their own privileged lives. So there is a difference between people who live with the expectation of Christ’s presence and those who may think it is time to eat drink and be merry because the second coming is a long way off.

In the end, this is about simply living in the present. Active waiting means being fully present to the moment convinced that this moment is THE moment. Living that way makes certain that when that final moment comes, we will be ready and be living it to the fullest, joyfully, and faithfully, confidently and peacefully. So today, my friends, our response to God’s call and to the urging of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is to become Advent people not just for four weeks before Christmas, but a lifetime.

2 Samuel 5, 1-3 + Psalm 122 + Colossians 1, 12-20 + Luke 23, 35-43

 Today we look back and we look forward. We look back into the Journey of Jesus that brought him to this day described by Luke and back further into this entire Year of Faith concluded this week. At the same time though we look forward to what begins with Advent and to what the future holds for us who have and who are making our journey to Jerusalem. In a way, all of this is visually there in the image Luke paints for us with words: three crosses on a hill outside of Jerusalem: one is the past, one is the present, and one is the future. Countless artists have painted it on canvas. Three crosses on a hill, weeping women, a group of men standing around busy talking about the events of the day as though the scene is so ordinary they cannot be bothered. That image is the present.

 Hanging on one cross is a sinner trapped in his past, unrepentant, angry, and hopeless. This cross is the throne of sin. It is our past. On the other side is a second cross on which hangs the future. Hope and comfort, forgiveness and repentance. This cross is the throne of repentance. On a third cross hangs the present. It is the throne of grace, the throne of forgiveness and mercy. It is the throne of hope which puts sin into the past, and hope for the Kingdom into the present. That cross is a throne that reveals who and what Jesus Christ is still today. It has nothing to do with the past except that by his presence now, there is a past, and a future for us full of hope.

 To those who have heard the call of Jesus to follow him, there is a place in this scene for us, because this scene is not an old snap-shot from the past. What we see through Luke’s words is the present. This is the time in which we live, for there are still people living in the dreadful agony of their past, trapped in sin, angry, and unrepentant. There are still believers and followers of Christ who weep in sadness at the suffering of the innocent consoled and desolate. They still cry out and weep unheard and unheeded by others who stand around ignoring the truth, just standing around doing business as usual. It is not because they are helpless either. They are simply uninterested and too busy with their little live to see what is going on around them and hear the conversation at the crosses. There are also some who are absent, whose presence might have brought some comfort, some encouragement, or relief into the chaos of that scene, but they, in spite of the fact that they had been privileged to hear the master speak, are too afraid. What a difference there is between those apostles and that one has nothing to lose now hanging there on his cross. In his suffering, he finds hope and hears words of comfort from that throne of grace and forgiveness because he acknowledges and confesses his sin. To him come those words so longed for by this world, a promise, hope, and forgiveness.

 At the center of it all is that third cross, the throne of grace and hope from which comes that message so full of power and so full of hope. One word of that message is all we need. “Today.” It is the affirmation of the present. Today is the day. Today is the time. Now salvation has come. Now there is hope. Now there is forgiveness and freedom. There is no waiting. There is no sense that something more must be done or anything else said. Today is the day. When repentance is embraced, forgiveness is given. The good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand is fulfilled in that scene. It’s over. The past with its death and sin is finished today.

 The King rules over death and sin today. The past and the future meet at the cross in the center. That throne from which he reigns is not covered in gold and jewels, but in the crimson color of his blood. This is a King of victory who subdues the final enemy to celebrate the eternal peace. The weapon of his battle that secures the peace is mercy and forgiveness. All that Jesus accomplished is revealed at this moment in this scene. The death of Jesus on the cross reveals a God who stands with us when we are afraid and is at our side while we are suffering. He did this simply so that we could know God today and love him more. Our repentance, our giving over of our lives to God, will assure us today that God’s presence is never closer than when we suffer, and that now through Christ we have already brought the past and the future into the presence where by the power of mercy and forgiveness we shall and always will know peace.

Malachi 3, 19-20 + Psalm 98 + 2 Thessalonians 3, 7-12 + Luke 21, 5-19

Three levels of Gospel hearing are at play today, and you have heard me insist on them for years:

1)      What did Jesus say? The historical situation

2)      What is Luke saying? The historical gospel situation

3)      What are they both saying to us right now

Taking the first steps keeps us on track. Skipping either one or two, and you might miss three.

This temple Jesus speaks of was built by Herod, a non-believer. It was not built out of faith as God’s dwelling place. Herod was in league with the Romans and so were the priests who ran the place. It was a very important income producer for Herod, the priests, and the Romans who took a share of the offering income. It was as much a market place as it was a holy place. Judging from the behavior of Jesus reported to us, it was not much of a holy place at all no matter what he did to clean it up. The temple was to have been, from the time of Solomon and David who built the first one, a sign of God’s presence, a place of thanksgiving, offering, and praise. It was a sign of unity, and a place that drew people together providing their identity. Jesus has something else to offer given what the temple has become.

When Luke writes and has Jesus speaking, those who receive this Gospel know that the temple is already down. The zealots schemed an uprising, a violent revolt against the Romans. They lost, and the price they paid was the total destruction of Jerusalem including the temple. Even secular historians say that there was not one stone left upon another. Easy targets for blame were the followers of Jesus. When disasters happen and someone commits an act of violent terrorism, there must always be someone to blame, and nearly all the time it is the most innocent, indefensible, and helpless. Being a small group who were “different”, gentle, peacefully non-violent, we know who got the blame and paid a great price: those new followers of the “Way”: the followers of that crucified criminal, that insurrectionist, that blasphemer. Persecution began big time.

There have been some in our tradition over the years who interpret all of this violence, especially the destruction of Jerusalem as God’s punishment for the rejection of Christ. This assumes of course, that God is in the punishment business. There is an odd human behavior that likes to invoke authority to give credibility to their wishes. When I was a pastor, now and then I would question how something happened, and too frequently I would hear that so-and-so said Father wanted it this way when in fact Father had never given it a thought; but to get their way with a minimum of trouble, invoking an authority figure would often work. Sometimes this behavior is also a kind of wish-fulfillment. Wishing that God would punish (because they would like to do the punishing) they decide that God did it thereby excusing themselves from the whole thing to begin with.

The fact of the matter is that Jerusalem was destroyed not because anyone rejected Jesus or because his followers started trouble; but because the peaceful, loving, non-violent way of Jesus was not followed. The zealots rejected a behavior that would have kept the peace. Here is the point of proclaiming this Gospel today in this place not because it is a threat that says if you reject Christ, God will punish you;  but because the Gospel always reveals something of God’s love for us. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS for everyone. It is not BAD NEWS for the bad.

The temple could come down because it was no longer the physical sign of God’s presence. It could come down and mean nothing except a mess to clean up because there was a new source of identity, and something else to draw people together in which they could offer praise, thanks, and fulfill the law and will of God. That new temple is Jesus Christ, the temple raised up again in three days after being torn down.

Luke’s comforting and encouraging words to those early followers of Christ was that their suffering was a way of bearing witness to God’s presence. Their suffering was their hymn of praise, and living through those times with hope was testimony to their belief in the victory of love over hate, peace over violence, and life over death.

Proclaiming this Gospel today needs few words. For true believers, Jesus Christ is still the best and clearest sign of God’s presence. The presence of God and of God’s Son is the people who have inherited his name and learned from him how to live in obedience to the Will of God and in love for one another. For true believers, Jesus Christ is still where we find our identity. It will not be found in ethnic groups, behind flags, ideologies, or political parties. Our identity in Christ transcends all of those things and makes them irrelevant, inconvenient, and sometimes even an obstacle to our real identity as the living presence of God on this earth. Jesus Christ becomes the center, the gathering place, the one to whom all people will come in the pilgrimage of life as the Jews came to Jerusalem and its Temple again and again.

What we proclaim today is a new Temple not made by human hands and stones, but made by human lives sanctified and purified by the courage of sacrifice, service, non-violence, and love. What we proclaim today as we are the ones gifted and called to give flesh to the Word of God, a people whose actions and behavior, attitudes and hopes reveal God’s plan for this earth and people God has loved so much. What we proclaim is what we live. What we say to this world is simply: “If you want to find God come among us. If you want healing and forgiveness, stay with us. If you want to find life and joy, we have it abundantly. If you are hungry, we will feed you. If you are thirsty, we will give you a drink – a drink that will not leave you thirsty again. If you are afraid, we will calm your fears. If you are alone, we will stay with you. If you are in the dark, we will share the light.”

As we come to the conclusion of a full year in the Gospel of Luke, his message of hope cannot leave us unchanged. His gentleness and the beauty of his message must soften hardened hearts. His vision and his experience of the Holy Spirit from the Baptism of Jesus through the Transfiguration and on to Pentecost cannot leave us thinking for one moment that we are alone here. By that Spirit, we can live without fear, and know that we have among us whatever it takes to awaken this world to God’s presence and the joy of knowing God’s love with the promise of forgiveness and peace where God’s people are found together as one.

Ordinary Time 13  November 10, 2013

Maccabees 7, 1-2, 9, 14 + Psalm 17 + 2 Thessalonians 2, 16-3, 5 + Luke 20,

The journey of Jesus that began weeks and weeks ago with Luke Chapter 9 is now concluded. He made through Jericho last week where he invited Nicodemus and us to “Come down.” He is now in Jerusalem where he will fulfill his Father’s will, where all that he had promised would come to pass, where the temple of his body would be torn down only to rise again on the third day. Now Luke fine tunes his Gospel and begins to focus on life and the promise of Jesus. Who better to cast in this scene than the Sadducees whose position on death was that it was final. There are some who describe the Sadducees as a group who refused to believe in the resurrection. I think that description of them comes out of the negative. All that tells us is what they are NOT. The other way to think of them is that they believed in death. For the Sadducees, death was the end. There was no more. Not surprising then that when they come up against Life in the presence of Jesus Christ, there is going to be some conflict and surprises.

This ideology of the Sadducees is hardly a thing of the past. Judging from the way much of this world lives and behaves, it would be difficult to assume that many believe in or give much thought to the anything at all after death. We have an odd arrangement with death these days, a sort of denial that death will come, and with that comes a denial that there is anything after it. Denying death leaves us locked in the present going on and on as though there will be nothing more than what is right now. In refusing to believe in another life, which followers of Christ called, “The Resurrection,” death is refused. But is exactly what Jesus accepts and does in Jerusalem. He will not, he does not deny death. In this conversation with the Sadducees, he teases them with thoughts about a “Living God”, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the prophets.

Without the resurrection, followers of Christ have nothing to say to this world. Like Jesus Christ, we stand in a relationship with the Living God, and that relationship will not reconcile with a culture of death, an ideology that refuses death, and the denial of death’s power.

Once the reality and inevitability of death is accepted there is something more to do, and something more to become. Our energy and our focus can be spent on something else, life; rather than on the denial of death. What happens, what we are, and what we do after death becomes a concern, an interest, even a motive for what we are doing here and now. We are a people of life, in life, and for life. Knowing that we shall continue to live even in the face of death changes everything. Knowing that we shall continue to live gives hope, and confidence, courage and joy. There is something to look forward to – something more than just the same old thing. This knowledge is not just some hunch or wish, or some way of hanging on in the face of death’s certainty. This knowledge is a relationship.

This is where Jesus steps in with his profound wisdom challenging the Sadducees and those like them in every age. He speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the prophets and patriarchs. What do these people have in common? One thing: a relationship with Living God. What Jesus proposes is that when God has a relationship with someone, nothing, not even death, can destroy that relationship! A relationship with God is not like the relationships we have from time to time that come and go, that are broken and wounded, incomplete and fragile.

Here is the message of this Gospel. Here is where we can enter into the mystery of resurrected life. Here is where life everlasting becomes not only possible but a reality. This is the way to eternal life, the way to face death today and be around tomorrow; a relationship with the living God. I have seen people face the most impossible and terrifying things. I have seen people come through horrible and heart breaking experiences and rise up tall and strong full of life and free of resentment and anger. I have also seen it go the other way, and every time the difference between them is one thing: their relationship with the living God.

What will come for Jesus in Jerusalem is devastating and a disaster for his followers. In the midst of it, at the worst of it, he maintained his relationship with the Father. He rose from that death, and he lives. For the apostles, his death was something to be denied. It couldn’t happen. It won’t happen. They ran and they hid in denial of what did happen. Their relationship with the Father was not yet strong enough and not yet sealed. For Jesus of Nazareth, the Spirit came upon him in the Jordan. For the Apostles, there was denial, fear, and nothing but the grief of death until Pentecost, and then their relationship with the Father was sealed, and the denial was over. They preached Jesus crucified!

We are a Baptized people, Confirmed with the power and the gifts of the Spirit. We are people of life, living now and living forever because God has called us his own. With death completely tamed by this truth and this promise, there is only a life of joy and of peace for us to live. What gives us those precious gifts is not so much death, but that relationship with living God, the God who loves us. What Jesus says to those Sadducees and to anyone who lives as though death is the end of everything, there is simply one question raised: “How could God allow someone God loves to die?” In response we are simply but profoundly left to say, “He does not.” “Death is not what the Sadducees think it is. There is more, and Paul suggests that it is better. With this hope and with this promise, we might move deeply into the mystery of this Love and with the days we have work more consistently and sincerely for the sake of that love and life itself.

Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church Norman, OK

Wisdom 11, 22-12, 2 + Psalm 145 + 2 Thessalonians 1,11 -2,2 + Luke 19, 1-10

“Come down.” says Jesus to Zacchaeus. “Come down” says Jesus to you and me when we pick up this piece of Luke’s Gospel. “Come down, down from our arrogance and smug ways, down from your hoarding of this earth’s bounty, down from your power, down from your privilege and prestige.  Come down from your pride and from your grudges. Come down from jealousies and ambitions, superiority and judgments. Come down from everything and anything that keeps us from Joy.

Look at what happens to Zacchaeus when he comes down. He is filled with Joy. All that stuff he had accumulated had never brought him anything lasting. Maybe a moment or two of fleeting happiness, but never a hint of Joy, and it certainly never let him hear those words: “I must stay at your house today.”

This joyless world too busy pursing happiness never finds Joy. A life dedicated to the pursuit of happiness never tastes the salvation offered by Christ. This story of Joy and salvation reveals to us the path to joy and the way of salvation. Look at the movements in the life of Zacchaeus. First there is attraction. He wants to see Jesus. Without that attraction, there is nothing left to do but “pursue happiness”. So, all of life becomes one big pursuit, one big chase after an illusion. Zacchaeus however was finished with that pursuit of wealth and power and riches. He wanted to see Jesus: attraction.

The attraction then leads to a dialogue. Jesus speaks to him and Zacchaeus responds not just with words, but with action. He came down, and he came down quickly. The dialogue between them leads to conversion. Zacchaeus turns away from that pursuit, and that conversion leads to his repentance with his more than amble restitution four times over. The consequence of that Joyful attraction, dialogue, conversion, and repentance is a proclamation we all long to hear: “Today Salvation has come to this house.”

The welcome offered by Zacchaeus is more than a welcome to his home. It is at first a welcome into his heart. This is what brings Salvation, a heart attracted to and in prayer (dialogue) with Christ; and a life of continual conversion and repentance. These are the steps to Joy and to Salvation. The courage of Zacchaeus is remarkable. The strength of his attraction and his desire just to see Jesus brings him into sharp conflict with the whispering and grumbling crowd. It is the challenge still faced by those who are still really attracted to Jesus and the life Jesus invites us to share. The challenge to do something different, to be something different, the challenge to run ahead and climb a tree, to ignore the pressure and the grumbling of others is a challenge faced by anyone who awakens to that attraction that starts it all.

How tragic it might have been if Zacchaeus would have done what the crowd expected, if their grumbling would have kept him on the ground out of sight and out of hearing the invitation to “Come Down.”

I would like to image that had he stayed on the ground, had he bent to the opinion and the grumbling of the crowd, he would have spent the rest of his life saying the words that have marked with sadness far too many lives: “If only I had…..” I’ve come to believe that those words are the most and sad and tragic words we ever hear. “If only I had said something.”  “If only I had done something.”  “If only……If only….. Tragic regret over missed opportunities scars human history, and has led far too many a long way from Joy and from the Joyful One, Christ Jesus.

So we tell the story of Zacchaeus again precisely because it is not a story of regret and missed opportunity. It is the story of a Joyful life full of the promise of Salvation. “Come down.” says Jesus once again. “I must stay in your house today.”