All posts for the month October, 2015

October 25, 2015 at St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Jeremiah 31, 7-9 + Psalm 126 + Hebrews 5, 1-6 + Mark 10, 46-52

This is the last healing event in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is almost to Jerusalem. He has just spoken for the third and last time of the suffering and death that awaits him in Jerusalem. It is amazing to me that these disciples who have been with Jesus so long want to silence this blind man. He may be blind, but he sees something they have failed to see, and he has faith that they have still not found. He knows where to go for what he needs. When Jesus asks him what he wants, I suspect that it was for the sake of the others who have been telling him to shut up.

Bartimaeus has come to Jesus. He expresses his faith and his need, and there comes the response: “Be on your way. Your faith has healed you.” The response of Jesus is very important. He confirms the faith of Bartimaeus. Does Jesus heal the man, or is it his faith? We should pay attention to this detail revealed by the command. What faith has done for Bartimaeus is bring him to Jesus. That is the experience of his healing, coming to Jesus. What the story unfolds for us then is what faith does: bring us to Jesus in whose presence we find healing.

The faith of this man would not be discouraged or diminished by a crowd who told him to shut up. He stands up to their insult and dismissal, because this is what people of faith do; they wait and they watch no matter what for the moment when they can come into the presence of Jesus, the Son of David. In that presence whatever is needed is found, whatever is lacking is provided. The final evidence of this faith is seen in the decision Bartimaeus makes. Jesus says: “Be on your way.” Bartimaeus says by his action: “My way is your way” and he follows Jesus down the road all the way to Jerusalem we can only suppose.

So we proclaim a story of faith today that is the story of mercy. The faith we share must lead us to Jesus. The faith we share must give us courage to stand up to those who might want us to be silent. The faith we share in the company of Jesus will satisfy all our needs and free us to set our feet on the road to Jerusalem with Christ Jesus. This is a story of the Church which has at its heart the mission of faith, the mission of bringing people to Jesus Christ. There are still people who cannot see. There are still people sitting by the side of the road. There are still people living on the margins of society and at the margins of the church itself, and sometimes we tell them to keep quiet, because like that crowd following Jesus, we have not yet seen what there is to see, and taken the courage of faith seriously enough to throw aside our cloaks, our old ways and our old habits.

Mercy is the mission of the church, and mercy is our mission. Having come to Jesus ourselves, and having found the sight to see as Jesus sees, we must gather up others who are left on the side of life’s road, the homeless, jobless, and hopeless, the broken and abandoned the abused, the fear filled refugees and all from the margins of society and darkness to come with us along the way all the way to Jerusalem where, having entered into the passion and death of Christ, we shall share in his victory and his glory. There is no other way. There is no other hope. There is no place for us to find what we need.

October 18, 2015

Isaiah 53, 10-11 + Psalm 33 + Hebrews 4, 14-16 + Mark 10, 35-45  Saint John Nepomuk Church in Yukon, OK

There is a seriously complicated issue in this text that does one of two things: drive people away from God or confuse the image of God Jesus has consistently revealed leading us to ignore the contradiction causing us to miss what is revealed. To misread and therefore misunderstand these words: “as a ransom for many” can lead us to think that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon the death of a victim or that there is some kind of contract between God and the victim that God requires before there is forgiveness. This kind of thinking is an insult to the mighty love of God. So we have to dig deeper with mature minds and informed faith. Suggesting that God actually demanded the death of someone in order to liberate everyone does not go down well for me, and I hope it does not for you either. What kind of a God is this?

At some practical level it might be fruitful to spend time critiquing the attitude that is evident in the conversation of the disciples. Their “What’s in it for me” attitude is hardly admirable, and there is a lesson for us there as well. Their desire to share the glory without sharing what it takes to get there brings a warning as well, because none of us will have share in the Glory of the risen Lord if we avoid passing through the passion and death. But there is more being revealed here than something about the apostles that can teach us about true discipleship. Something about God is being revealed here that takes a little digging and thinking to realize. It also means we have to push back the boundaries we sometimes drag into our thinking about God that are not helpful.

Imagining God and God’s behavior from our experience of human nature is not helpful. It is a consequence of making God in our own image instead of the way it really is intended. Thinking that God would demand a ransom, that there is some price to be paid to purchase God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness is making God in our image. It is the same error we heard last week with that man who thought he could do something to be saved. This business of a ransom, of making people pay up, or this kind of bargaining: that’s the stuff we do, it is not the God revealed by Jesus Christ. This tendency to imagine God or God’s behavior in terms of our behavior is the way myths develop, and it was quite common at the time of Christ and still hung on as the Gospels were being formed. Mythical elements and images of God are tough to break out of. This is what Jesus confronted again and again revealing a God who does not live by our rules, act like we do, (thank goodness!) and a God not bound by man-made rules. This is what made those Pharisees and Scribes so frustrated.

The wonder and mystery of the cross is a mystery of the love that is God’s very being. “God is Love.” Even at the moment of Jesus’ death, God is love. At the moment when we might think they are most separated, they are in fact united in a single love for the salvation of the world. Bloodshed and death are signs that express love. It is not the death that saves us, but the love it signifies. The death was needed to show that love might find expression and convince the world of love’s reality. This love is expressed in the very words of Jesus at his most desperate hour. “Father forgive them” he says. Not if they say they are sorry, not if they endure terrible punishment, not if they do penance for the rest of their lives. He simply offers forgiveness without conditions or payment. That is Love. That is God. There is no swap going on here where by God punishes God’s only Son rather than punish us. Jesus does not die so that we might not die. He dies to show us how to live, and to lead us into that fullness of life marked by and revealing Love. This is Mercy. It is, what I like to call, the Divine Surprise. We who like to measure out everything and want everything to be fair and equal, are surprised to find that it is not so with God. Like the father who gives both sons all they need no matter how they behave; like the master who pays people hired at the last hour more than they earned, and like every other example Jesus has put before us, there is always a measure of joyful surprise at the Mercy of God.

As Pope Francis proclaims a year of mercy, we have every reason to join in that celebration because the mercy is not just ours to receive, but ours to give. The Son has been sent into the world and dies in this world to show us Divine Love. He is obedient and surrenders not to death so much as to the power of mercy. In this death, he forgives us all, and in his resurrection he brings us all to victory with him, freeing us for eternal life. That is a revelation worth a celebration. Let’s get on with it, and make sure that we carry it with us into this world longing for mercy and to those needing forgiveness whether they ask for it or not.

Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Wisdom 7, 7-11+ Psalm 90 + Hebrews 4, 12-13 + Mark 10, 17-30

The man thinks that by keeping the rules or the “commandments” he can save himself. He is mistaken, and so are all those who continue to buy into this error on two levels. First of all, he thinks he can earn his salvation. When Jesus points out what it might take, he and the apostles who are observing all of this realize that the effort is hopelessly impossible. It is more than any of us can accomplish. Jesus responds by affirming however that God can do all things. It is only God who saves. We do not save ourselves.

The second error is not just about giving away the riches he may have. There is nothing wrong with the riches. The error comes from relying on those riches for security and safety, thinking they will get him what he wants. The issue is not the riches, but the reliance on those riches. It is this misplaced trust that Jesus corrects, not the wealth. The giving away of that wealth however is the test that reveals wherein one has placed their trust. Jesus is confronting reliance upon anything other than God. Those with many riches are not lost, they are simply more challenged than anyone else because the temptation to rely or depend on those riches is very great. Those with many riches have greater temptations and greater responsibility for their use of those riches.

Yet, wealth is not the only thing that leads us away from trusting in God. Power is just as seductive especially when seen as military might. Having the biggest bombs, army, and power has not gotten us any closer to peace. The temptation to rely on those material things is, by the lesson of this gospel, foolish. It is fellowship with Christ and trust in God that will bring and preserve peace. Investing in and attention to the social conditions that lead to violence shifts our reliance onto God’s concerns. Motivated by one’s spirituality and a sense of justice rooted in the dignity of human life is relying upon God who is mercy and whose presence is peace.

Physical beauty is another substitute for trusting in God. People who rely on their looks and cultivate those looks to build relationships are trapped by the culture in which we live. They spend more time cultivating their outward appearance while neglecting the soul and the spiritual life that has God as the center.

It is the attachments that we rely upon that keep us from true discipleship. A kind of Gospel detachment sets us free and liberates us from concerns that in the end have no way to lead us home. Misplaced attachments cause worry, anxiety, and fear. These feelings have no place in the lives and hearts of disciples who are one with Christ. The measure of worry, anxiety, and fear in our lives tells us clearly how much we have come to trust in God and rely upon God’s grace.

The disciples are astonished with what is being revealed here. The power of God and the grace of God’s love is always astonishing to those who are surprised by God’s mercy and the power of love. Such surprise is only possible when we are free and open to gifts greater than the ones we imagine and believe are so important.

The amazing thing about this encounter between Jesus and the man of wealth is that it has no conclusion. We are simply told that he went away, and that his sadness was even shared by Jesus. We can hope that he came back to experience again that look of love having discovered that he could live without all of his stuff, and that the freedom he found without it is better than the worry of how to keep it and how to earn salvation which is only possible with God who wills it for us all.

St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Genesis 2, 18-24 + Psalm 128 + Hebrews 2, 9-11 + Mark 10, 2-16

The Gospel today reminds us that ultimately the work of Jesus Christ was to restore us to the conditions of Paradise, to take us back home, back to that “Garden”, into that relationship with God once marked by obedience, fidelity, and love. The inspired writer of these verses from Genesis was interested only in asserting the equality of woman. In human terms, she is not a different kind of being from man, and is not inferior to him. She is his partner and equal. Being a “helpmate” does not imply that she is less. The union between them is so great and strong that there can be no question of breaking it without destroying their very identity. So this text is about equality between man and woman. That is what Adam is proclaiming when he says that she is “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh”. It is a declaration of equality. They are equal. They are one.

On the basis of this understanding then Jesus says to those who would trap him that God’s plan matters more than a man-made plan, with this “arrangement” that permitted a man to divorce a woman for any frivolous reason while a woman had not right to divorce whatsoever. Jesus is turning the whole system upside down using the divorce example to confront injustice and the abuse of one person by another. While these verses may lead us off to wonderful reflections on marriage, they are really a headlong confrontation of Jesus with a cultural system that accommodates the power of one over another and tolerates the abuse of one by another. This is not God’s will.

Unity, and oneness is God’s will. So the healing of what is broken and the restoration of all the wonderful conditions of Paradise is the work of Jesus Christ. Recovering what was lost with leaving Paradise is what Jesus called, “The Reign of God.” Jesus has come to take us there, to take us home. He began that work at the very spot where the Father’s plan was interrupted by the choice of Adam and Eve to be disobedient and unfaithful. He began at a wedding in Cana. A wedding, a marriage, this magnificent union of man and woman is a sign of our hope and intention to live within the Reign of God.

This text is not a condemnation of people who have experienced the tragedy of divorce. It is an affirmation that it is not good to be alone. It is an affirmation that God has chosen man and woman to be equal partners united with God in the continuing work of creation. So to decide to build a life with another is to make an act of faith proclaiming publicly, the power of possibility. It is to declare faith in the future. When a man and woman stand before God and say, “I do,” they are really saying, “I do believe. I do believe that my tomorrows will be better because of this person I marry today. I do believe in starting a family. I do believe in continuing what began with that first man and woman.” In this way, countless men and women who enter into marriage affirm that mystery, and they proclaim that they will care for one another, no matter what. They proclaim that they believe that their future together will be brighter because this other person is a part of it. They are saying: we are part of a story stretching back to the beginnings of time. And they are saying something more: we want to continue the story, by becoming a family to one another, and welcoming children, and letting God continue his creative work. There is nothing more pro-life than that. Respecting life is about being open to life, every blessed second of it, in all its wonder and disappointments and challenges and setbacks and joys. It is saying yes to the ongoing miracle of creation, no matter how small or needy or imperfect it might be. The mystery and wonder of a woman and a man who say “yes” to God’s call to share in the ongoing creation of the world is the most visible and concrete testimony to faith we could ask for.

We will stand in a just a moment and recite the Creed to give witness to our faith and our unity while all around us in this place there are living witnesses to faith and unity in the marriages that give us all cause to rejoice. It is not good to be alone, and that is why it is so good to be here as church, as family, as faithful people who seek to know, obey, and find peace in doing the will of God and completing the work of Jesus Christ.