All posts for the month February, 2015

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 + Psalm 116 + Romans 8:31b-34 + Mark 9:2-10

Many have been troubled over the story of Abraham and Isaac wondering how God could ask such a thing, but this is not a story about God. It is a story about Abraham. It is all about Abraham. It is about a man who listens to God. It is Abraham’s willingness to listen and obey that reveals the true nature of God not as a God who asks sacrifice, but a God promises to provide and rain down blessings greater than anyone could imagine or deserve.

The Gospel of Mark today confirms the expectation that we are to listen to the voice of God, and those who do listen will experience first a transformation and then a transfiguration into the glory of God. The transformation is seen in lepers who are cleansed, blind who see, lame who walk. This deeper transformation is their restoration within the community of the faithful, as outcasts are touched, healed, and brought home, as sinners are welcomed and included in banquets and and feasts all in the company of the one who shows us how to listen. Our own best hope as that by listening to the Word of God we too will find ourselves transformed in this life. We call it “conversion”. It is the focus of this season, and the whole purpose of our prayer, fasting, and sacrifices. This experience of transformation brings us healing and forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope.

Finally like all those who have gone before us, Abraham and Moses included, the transformation will find us once and finally transfigured through death into the glory that is God’s gift and promise through Jesus Christ. What those apostles saw on that mountain was what lies in store for those transformed by listening to God’s Son. What they saw was what we may all be if we listen. They did not and could not understand until they saw and experienced what transformation promises. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which they witnessed and then understood by the power of the Holy Spirit would then be their own transfiguration if they would but listen.

There is or ought to be stillness in this season of Lent. These days should offer us time and desire to listen. To be truly fruitful and transformative, our observance of these forty days ought to provide time for listening. Whatever it is that we sacrifice and give up should provide some time for listening. Yet the noisy world in which we find ourselves makes no room for silence. Real listening is becoming a lost art. Double tasking,  the constant noise of children’s games on iPads and phones, Televisions shrieking away in empty rooms, ear phones jammed into ears everywhere are all the evidence we need that no one is listening; at least no one is listening to anything that matters.

This is a season for quiet, and in the stillness we can listen: listen to the longing of our hearts for peace, forgiveness, and healing. We can listen for the voice of God in the silence of God’s presence. We can listen for the cry of the poor whose pleas for justice and hope are muffled by the blare of consumerism’s unending advertisements. We can listen to the Word of God that will lead us to the glory of a final transfiguration that will be our own resurrection from sin and sin’s consequences into mercy and the fullness of life.

There is still time in these Lenten days to obey the command spoken on that mountain. “Listen” God says. Listen, and when you do the promises made to Abraham will be ours.

Genesis 9, 8-15 + Psalm 25 + 1 Peter 3, 18-22 + Mark 1, 12-15

The first followers of Jesus Christ did not follow him because they believed he was God. They followed him and eventually began to imitate long before they began to worship him. They changed their lives and left everything behind following him from town to town, synagogue to synagogue because they saw something valuable in the way he lived. They saw how he paid attention to things and people they had never noticed before, and he showed them how to change the world in which they lived. He did not do this by creating a new religion. He did it by showing them how to bring his new insights into the faith they already had. This is why it is important to understand how central “covenant” is in the faith of Jesus, and how central “covenant” is for us during Lent. Over and over again, we will hear about “covenant” during these Lenten weeks, until finally a “New Covenant” emerges at the end on Holy Thursday.

Today we hear about the first covenant with Noah. It is a little unique among the covenants because in this one God makes all the commitments. In every one that follows, there will be mutual responsibilities, and the covenant will revolve around each side keeping their obligations. Other covenants will follow like the one with Abraham and Sarah and another that Moses mediates on a mountain top. There was always something more to these covenants than the mutual obligations. There was an understanding that the obligations were the bare minimum, and that something more was always expected. Jesus was a man of covenant, and he believed and understood this matter of doing more than was expected.

Think of it this way. Marriage is a covenant. The terms or obligations of the covenant are set out in the vow: “I will be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I love and honor you all the days of my life.” In an older version it says: “to have and to hold from this day forward for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Now, if that’s all you do for one another and nothing more, it isn’t going to be much of a relationship. It takes a lot more than that for a covenant to be life-giving and lasting. You can do “little things” and sometimes big things that bring give life and joy into a relationship. There are countless little things that you don’t have to do, but when done out of love bring joy. These things bring freedom into a covenant because while we are not free to break the covenant, we are free to do more than the obligations. This is what Jesus began to show his followers. Just keeping the rules and doing the bare minimum does not allow a covenant to be life-giving and lead the two in the covenant to come closer together and become one.

Here we discover what Jesus was doing and teaching his disciples. Story after story, parable after parable he takes his covenant relationship with God beyond the rules and regulations to which most people adhered somewhat rigidly. Faith for Jesus and his commitment to his Father led him to find commitment with others and experience God working in every situation of his life by always doing more than was required.

The season we have now begun is focused on covenant, but not to examine how well we keep the rules, but to lead us to freedom and into the reign of God. That freedom and the real fulfillment of the covenant is found in doing more than what is required.

So a rule says: no meat on Friday. Is that the best you can do? It says two days of fast every year. Is two days the only time you might fast? Mass once a week on Sunday. Is that all you can manage? A commandment says: “Do not kill.”  Have you done anything to give life? “Do not steal.” Have you given anything away? It isn’t hard to look at our lives this way. This way of life and this way of relationship in covenant is what those disciples learned from Jesus. Our faith and the covenant we have in the Body and Blood of Christ is about being more than average, about doing more than just getting by, about living more deeply, joyfully, and freely by doing little things and big things that are not required, but freely chosen out of love for one another and love for God.

Leviticus 13, 1-2, 44-46 + Psalm 32 + 1 Corinthians 10, 31 – 11, 1 + Mark 1, 40-45

Three weeks ago when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, repentance was expected, and the change in their lives that began that day was to put people first and fish second in their lives as they left their nets and boats and began to follow Jesus. During their time with Jesus, they learned day by day how to do that, and what it would mean: people first. It is still the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, and he is emphasizing that expectation still. This is the third miracle. The pattern is significant. First it is Sabbath day in the Synagogue. Jesus insists that the freedom and healing of the possessed man is more important than the day of the week. Then it is Peter’s mother-in-law in her home. A woman is healed. Now it is a leper who calls out in faith, and he is touched. In just forty verses, Jesus is on the move, and you have to be blind and deaf not to get the point that there is urgency, and that no one is going to be left out. People come first. The day of the week does not matter. The gender of a person is totally irrelevant.  The fact that you are, in effect, an excommunicated member of society – the ultimate outcast, a leper, makes no difference. People come first.

The rule says do nothing on the Sabbath. The society puts no value on women. The law says, don’t touch a leper. However with Jesus Christ, people come before rules, customs and laws, and so today he touches that leper. At the moment Jesus touched that man the crowd and the disciples must have gasped in amazement and even in horror. In a sense, by touching the man, Jesus traded places with him. The one who is unclean is cleansed. The one who had been clean is now tainted. The outcast is sent to the priests as a sign of his return to the community. Jesus Christ is now the outcast whose alienation from the Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees will only continue to grow more pronounced. We know how it is going to end, because those who do not put people first will eventually take the life of the one who does put people first.

In reaching out to touch that leper, Jesus made a statement that the man who called out to him had leprosy. He was not a leprous creature. In reaching out to that man Jesus was identified with the victim. He became one with the one who suffers. There is in this simple gesture an act of freedom: freedom on the part of Jesus to do the right thing, and freedom on the part of that man to walk away from his enslaved condition to the freedom of a full human being.

At its deepest meaning this is an incarnational story. The Word is Made Flesh. It is not the flesh of a glowing model of perfect idealistic humanity, but the flesh of a leper, the flesh of someone no one would touch except God! The outcast becomes the one touched by the divine.

The translation chosen by the church for use in the Liturgy says that Jesus was moved with pity for this man. Many other manuscripts of this text say that Jesus was moved by anger. I like this more passionate translation that suggests a stronger reaction of Jesus at the very thought of someone being an outcast avoided by all is repugnant to Jesus, and so his response is not only to challenge the disease, but to end the man’s isolation and restore him to his rightful place in relationship to the community. That is why Jesus sends him to the priests. That act restores his place in the community and his relationship with the people.

This reversal of roles as one who was at first unclean becomes clean by a touch that renders Jesus unclean now continues as the one who at first lived alone in the desert returns to the community while Jesus must find a refuge for himself in the very deserted places where the leper once hid. That reversal of roles continues for us in the mystery of salvation. Jesus continues to take our place and to offer us his place at the Father’s right hand. This is the mystery and wonder of salvation. This is what we celebrate today our freedom, our liberation from helplessness, and our restoration to what we are created to be: children of God, heirs of the Kingdom, whole and holy.

Only response is possible to those who have experienced this saving mystery, and nothing should keep us quiet.

 Good Shepherd, Marietta, OK and Holy Cross, Madill, OK

Job 7, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 9, 16-19, 22-23 + Mark 1, 29-39

There is an important change of location in this first Chapter of Mark’s Gospel. The first miracle that Jesus performs takes place in the Synagogue. The second miracle takes place in the home of Peter. Our Gospel today begins with words that draw our attention to this shift: “Upon leaving the synagogue…..” Details like this are always significant, and in themselves, there is a message. Four words that point to something new.

For the Jewish people the Synagogue was the center of life and faith. It was there that they prayed, studied, and heard God’s Word. Now suddenly there is a change, something completely new. While Jesus began his ministry in the synagogue, he moves on and he moves out. Mark takes us to Peter’s home. The second miracle in the ministry of Jesus is then outside the synagogue in a home. While the ministry of Jesus begins in a place of prayer and worship, it continues and is completed outside in the world, in the home of Peter. This is important for us to see and understand.

Jesus goes out to meet the lepers, the possessed, the sick, the blind and the lame. He does not wait nor expect them to come to him in the synagogue. The work he came to accomplish is done outside in the world, on the roads, in homes, in market places, in offices, and in classrooms. Mark has no intention of suggesting that what we do here in this church is not part of the work nor important for the work. It is here that we are formed, taught, fed, encouraged, and sent. Here in the Eucharist we become the community in which Christ is found; and filled with the Holy Spirit we are sent out to do the work of Christ, a work of healing and forgiving, feeding and calling the lost to find their way.

This is the beginning in here. Out there is the mission where the reign of God grows. The Gospel does no good if it is read like a story book, carried around in churches, and studied like a text book. The Gospel is power and mission, vision, and the reason for our very lives. There are still sick and lonely people, lame, blind, deaf and broken who wait out there for us to come and treat them with respect, listen to their pain, and show them the face of Christ. There are people possessed by loneliness and fear. There are still people treated like lepers who are ignored and shut out of life and happiness because of the way they look, where they live, or where they work. Their only hope is you and me.

This Gospel begins in a synagogue and notice that it ends in a synagogue because a life of prayer and worship with others gives direction and purpose to what we do during the week. This is the beginning and the end. What we do in the middle in between is what gives purpose and witness to the faith we celebrate here and live out there. In just a few minutes, you will hear familiar words: “Go and Glorify God with your lives, the Mass is ended.” Think of that today and every day you come to this holy place, and what you do until you come back will take on new meaning, bring the Gospel to life, and fulfill our calling as a Holy People and Disciples of Jesus Christ.