All posts for the month January, 2015

Deuteronomy 18, 15-20 + Psalm 95 + 1 Corinthians 7, 32-35 + Mark 1, 21-28

Last week we heard the first spoken words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. This week we hear of the first miracle, and with it Mark introduces the primary issues that will spark conflicts between Jesus and the “authorities.” They are issues that are far from settled. They still cause conflict and challenge today.

The “authorities”, scribes and Pharisees, are upset because the sacredness of the Sabbath has been compromised. Even more so they are upset because their authority has been questioned by a new authority. The Scribes thought and taught that the most important thing in life was following the law. Jesus proposes a new authority. Rather than the ultimate authority of the Law, Jesus proposes Love and Mercy. Even though Mark does not say so, I suspect that those Scribes were also upset because nothing they did ever left the people astonished and wondering: “What does this mean?”

The day of the week is irrelevant as this story goes. What is more important: the sacredness of the Sabbath or the sacredness of Humanity? This is real the issue: what matters most, keeping the rule or taking care of people? In the time of fulfillment that Jesus has proclaimed, in the Reign of God, every day is a Sabbath. In fact, there are no “days” – there is simply the time of fulfillment that Jesus has proclaimed. It is the time when evil is finished, and all its manifestations are gone. So, in the synagogue on that day, because Jesus is there, that man is free, and Jesus is acknowledged. This is something new. It is astonishing not because a man was healed, but because of what it might mean. People really do count? People who are outcasts, weird, possessed really count more than the Sabbath rule? Astonishing! This is something new. What does this mean?

This manifestation of the power of God’s love and mercy left all of those people talking and wondering. Some came to believe. Why only “some”? What would it take for all of them to move from wondering in astonishment to belief? It is a question that turns to us for an answer. The first step toward belief is this astonishment, but when you take a close look at our lives, there is not much to get excited about. We are astonished all the time by the power of evil. Hardly ever does the power of good leave us astonished. Not a day goes by when some terrorist or some deranged person like the man in the synagogue does something horrible that leaves us astonished. It might be time to ask why the power of evil leaves us astonished while the power of love and mercy seem to be so hard to find. The truth is, we are numb. We are anesthetized by all this evil so much so that nothing leaves us astonished anymore. What does this mean?

My own suspicion is that too many of us are concerned with doing things right rather than doing the right thing. They are not often the same. The narcissistic culture we live in cultivates a life style of pleasure and pleasing. We like to please others by doing what they expect and not rocking the boat. Mediocrity is the style of the day. Jesus stood up in the synagogue and did something no one else would do. He told a demon to be quiet. He silenced the voice of evil. He challenged what was wrong in spite of a law that said “Do nothing.” Jesus did not care what day it was. He saw a man in trouble, in the grip of evil, and he did something about it even though the authorities would not approve. What does this mean?

It means that when Jesus Christ is present, evil is going to be challenged. It means that with his coming into this world, there will be no power greater than his. It means that hiding behind rules, laws, and old customs is not the way things go under the reign of God. It means that if we ever take seriously opportunities to do the right thing, to speak up, to act up, to silence the voice of evil with the voice of mercy and love, we will find ourselves right in the middle of the reign of God. We will find ourselves once and for all right in the middle of the Body of Christ, and his authority will be ours not for power or gain, but for mercy and forgiveness, and there is doubt in my mind that this whole world be again be astonished and come to believe because of us. That is the work of discipleship.

Jonah 3, 1-5, 10 + Psalm 25 + 1 Corinthians 7, 29-31 + Mark 1, 14-20

For each of the evangelists; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the first words Jesus says set the theme for that Gospel. Last week we heard the first spoken words according to John: “What are you looking for?” That question weaves its way in and out of all the episodes of John’s Gospel. Today the first spoken words of Mark’s Gospel are set before us: “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the good news!” Once Mark sets this theme that we are living in the time of fulfillment, that God’s reign is beginning, and that our response to this is believing and therefore reforming our lives, Jesus goes to work.

All four disciples are called at once. There is sense of immediacy and urgency that flows through Mark’s Gospel. Hurry up is the mood. Immediate is the response. They put down everything and knowing nothing about where they were going or what this was all about, they followed Jesus. They did not follow an ideology or program. There was no agenda or plan. There was a person. All of this discipleship is personal and relational.

On the other hand, it is important to understand what Jesus is doing. He is not calling them to be priests or bishops. He is calling them to be disciples and then, as the story unfolds, he will send them out in his place with the same message. So there is no reading or listening to this story as an observer. This is not about Peter, James, Andrew and John. It is about everyone who hears the call of Jesus as an invitation to play a part in establishing the reign of God on this earth. What makes this news that we are living in the final and sacred time of God’s reign believable is the change in their lives; a sign of repentance.

The outward sign that those four men repented or changed their value systems is when they put people instead of fish as the center of their lives. That is unmistakable repentance. People now come first; not their jobs, not their possessions (nets and boats) not the old predictable way of life, people now come first as Jesus will show them along the way.

If it was so then, so it is now. Every single one of us has experienced a call to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have no idea where it will lead us, and what it will ask of us. We do know that repentance is required of those who will live in this time of fulfillment in the presence of and in the reign of God. We know that nothing else can come first except people because the relationship we have with Jesus Christ is lived and celebrated within the people he has called his own. Discipleship with Jesus Christ which is our call, it demands an immediate response, a willingness to abandon old ways, old values, expectations, and ways of looking even at ourselves.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John left what they knew to live differently. That is the choice facing every one of us God calls. We all have nets. The nets of this world and the things we are used to. They keep us from becoming true followers of Christ. They are the kind of nets in which we are entangled. Sin can be a net; cynicism, self-interest and greed. There are nets of racism, addiction, anger, despair and indifference. We get trapped in nets of mediocrity just getting by. But the call of Christ insists that we look deeply at our own habits and our own hearts. If it looks like too much of a challenge, there is one important detail to remember: we are not alone. When Jesus called those fishermen, they didn’t leave the lives they knew on their own. They went in pairs: Simon and Andrew, James and John.

The beautiful message is this: being a follower of Christ is not a solitary act. Being a Christian involves another, many others, in fact. The early Christians understood that; it was about celebrating Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in community and in communion. They prayed together. They shared the Eucharist together. They traveled together. They preached together. They were persecuted and martyred together too. In community, they found strength during times of great joy and great suffering. It is not different today.

Twenty centuries later, we continue what they began. That first call of the fishermen, two by two, has echoed around the world. Believers gather, in community, to share our love for God, our love for one another, and our passion for the Gospel message. We proclaim what we believe. We lift our eyes to a miracle: God in a piece of elevated bread that when consumed forms a Holy People. The body of Christ is uplifted, and so are we. But it will be meaningless if we just go home and go on with our lives. Like Simon and Andrew and James and John, we are called to leave our old ways of doing things, our familiar and comfortable ways of living. Ultimately, we are called to walk away and follow him. It is a call to sacrifice, to surrender, to trust, and change. The kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus proclaimed. It can be ours. But first, we need to abandon our nets and reform our lives.

1 Samuel 3, 3-10, 19 + Psalm 40 + 1 Corinthians 6, 13-15, 17-20 + John 1, 35-42

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish   Naples, Florida

The first words that Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel are heard today: “What are you looking for?” This question is essential to faith. Three times in John’s Gospel this question is asked. The first time is today. Then in the Garden of Olives after the Last Supper it will be asked again of those who come to arrest him. Finally it is asked one more time on Easter Sunday when Mary Magdalen comes to the tomb. The question frames the whole Gospel and the answer determines discipleship or opposition. There is no other way.

We all answer this question even when there are no words, for what we do always reveals what we are looking for. A person who knows what they are looking for in life has vision and purpose. What we are looking for drives our decisions, shapes our relationships, and reveals our values. Like the disciples in this first chapter of John’s Gospel, we may not have words to answer the question, but what we do says it all. While they did not answer the question, they followed him, and that said it all.

This is a fascinating dialogue. Jesus asks a question, and instead of answering the question, the disciples ask a question. He says: “What are you looking for?” and they say: “Where do you stay?” Now, I don’t know about you, but there have been many times in my life when I have been asked a question for which I had no answer, and one of my tested ways to avoid revealing ignorance is to ask another question. It would sometimes go like this: “Where are you going?” someone asks. I say: “Why do you want to know?”

I suggest that this is what is happening between Jesus and those disciples John the Baptist has sent them to Jesus. They do not know what they are looking for, so rather than admit it, they change the subject. However, it doesn’t work. They ask their question, and Jesus says: “Come and See.” At that moment in John’s Gospel, it is as though the lights come on and the curtain goes up. Keep reading, and you’re going to find an answer to both questions. Watch them become disciples all the way through the Passion, the Resurrection, and Pentecost. It will become obvious what they are looking for. They want to know where Jesus is to be found. He does not give them a street address. He gives them a life-style we call discipleship, and after some time, near the end of his life among them, he sits them down at a table and says: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in me just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love”. What he eventually reveals to them in answer to their question is that he lives in them. This is where he is to be found: in the lives of faithful disciples.

In these days as we prepare for the beginning of Lent, it might be a good time to reflect on and take a close look at how our lives reveal what we are looking for. As a church we do not preach a Gospel of Prosperity that suggests that those who have are somehow more blessed than those who live in want. We do not preach a gospel that suggests that good times are a reward and bad times are a punishment. We preach, live, teach, and profess a Gospel of presence that promises we shall never be alone. It is a Gospel that reveals a God who has been through it all with us from birth, and the terrorism of Herod, to betrayals by trusted and loved friends, through misunderstanding, abandonment, death, and finally the victory of the resurrection.

This is what we must seek: the confidence and hope, the assurance and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that we dwell in God and God dwells in us. When our lives begin to reveal this, others in this world will be at least tempted to reconsider their search for power, prestige, privilege, and wealth, a search that always leaves others in want and in need. So we ponder today the question Jesus asks to determine whether or not we are in opposition or in discipleship. There is probably no other option.

Isaiah 42, 1-4. 6-7 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Mark 1, 7-11

MS Westerdam

The only ones who hear anything in Mark’s Gospel are you, me, and Jesus. None of the bystanders hear a thing. They do not hear those words we hear. Do you wonder why? I think it is because at that moment they have not been baptized. It is not to suggest that they are excluded, but it is to say that baptism and hearing the Word of God results in one being claimed by God, becoming a servant of God, and beginning the work that all the baptized are privileged to continue: making known the loving and saving plan of God for all humankind. From that moment on, everything he says and everything he does is God’s. There is no private life. There is no civil life, and no religious life. There is no spiritual life either. There is only the Life of God living within one has been baptized, and heard the Word of God speaking.

We live such compartmentalized lives these days. The life of a wife or husband, the life of a parent, the life of some kind of profession. Somehow I suppose it is one way to keep organized and not fly off in a hundred different directions. We have a faith life, we have the life of a citizen, some have the life in the military, or a life in healthcare, or law. I have had the life of a Pastor. It is all so neat and orderly. Yet, it is also so artificial and so far from what we were called to become on the day of our Baptism.

Living like this leads us to think and say things like: “Sundays are for God, the rest of the week if for business” or pleasure or politics where religion plays no part. This kind of thinking is not in tune with nor worthy of what we have become as sons and daughters of God. By virtue of our Baptism, we have been born into the life of Christ, a life that knew no distinctions or categories. It was and still is for us, a life that is totally and completely integrated and whole meaning that everything we do is directed to and by God. Everything.

Folding laundry, grocery shopping, driving the kids to school, reading with them, calling and checking on your parents or your neighbor, working, or studying: it’s all about God, because of God, and for God. In this thinking and in this life, there are no “have to-s”. Everything is a “get to”. All is gift. All is privilege. All is gratitude. Faith is not excluded from anything. In fact, faith is involved in everything we do and every decision we make.

This is what we learn from Mark’s story of Baptism. That having been claimed by God and having heard as we just did the voice of God claiming us, everything is changed. Now there is a reason and a purpose for everything we do here: the glory of God and the revelation of God’s presence and God’s will.

When people encounter those who are truly baptized, and baptized in the Spirit of God, they always wonder, “What kind of person is this?” at which point, they begin to desire and seek for themselves that loving place in God’s heart. This is the beginning of the “fullness” of life which is what we are offered through Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-3, 5-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12

MS Westerdamm

My seven year old grandnephew sits safely in the back seat of my car on occasions when I am visiting, and he knows the neighborhood better than I do, especially the way home from school and to Target and the Dollar General Store. He knows that I do not always get it right when I am taking them somewhere so he sits back there imitating the voice on the GPS system amazingly well. Problems occur when he does not speak up soon enough for me to make the turns he announces in his mechanical voice. When I miss, he says: “At the next opportunity, make a legal U turn.” I am not sure he knows what a “legal U Turn is, but he does know that we have to go back. In thinking about this familiar and imaginative Gospel story, I wonder if those Magi might have done better to have had a GPS strapped to the back of the camel. It would have at least kept them away from Herod.

That word “Magi” has the same root as our word, “Magic”, and their story is certainly a magic one in which the entire summary of the Gospel message unfolds with Matthew’s skillful story telling. The first two chapters of his Gospel contain the Good News of Salvation and the proclamation of Jesus as savior of the world. In these chapters, Matthew establishes God’s universal concern, the divine origins of Jesus and his authority as Messiah along with the necessity of the worldwide mission of the church. Consequently this is not just a wonderful story to tell again and again, but it is a piece of revelation through which God reveals the plan for salvation, and the one who will be savior. Magicians force us to look at things and to look for things. “How did you do that?” is always the question. While we are wondering about it, we are looking, looking at things in a different way. It has always seemed to me that this three Magicians are still doing that to us, exciting us enough to look at things in a new way. They looked a little child apparently born in poverty, and they say a king. They looked at Jesus in Bethlehem and remembered the prophet’s words about that place, and they saw the Messiah. They looked into the face of Mary and Joseph and saw what they would one day see: the divine presence, Immanuel, in people who heard the Word of God and kept it. By the standards of this world they brought riches far greater than what they found. By divine standards they found wealth beyond imagining.

While Matthew tells the story of a magical star, it is not really the star that leads the Magi. It is faith. Faith is what inspired them, motivated them, and brought them to foot of the Messiah. It was faith and hope that made them look for the star and gave them the courage to follow the star. It was the Love they encountered there that inspired them to return another way diverting the evil of Herod’s power. Matthew says nothing more about a star for their return. Perhaps that is because having seen the Light of the World they needed nothing more to lead them home.