All posts for the month June, 2017

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time July 2, 2017

2 Kings 4, 8-11 + Psalm 89 + Romans 6, 3-4 + Matthew 10, 37-42

St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK

The culture and customs alive at the time Jesus spoke these words are not too different from our culture today. Here among us in this parish, customs and cultural identity are important. It matters if you are from Mexico, or Cuba, or Venezuela, Columbia, or Honduras. Your name matters. It tells who your father and perhaps who your mother is and their parents as well. Having children was important too, because when you aged and were no longer able to care for yourself, having many children brought the possibility of security and care. The family network provided safety, dignity, and respect. It also provided a future.

When Jesus says these things, it is disturbing. He is questioning the very core value and very structure of social and family systems. So, in this part of Matthew’s Gospel when he is preparing his disciples for their mission he wants them find their identity in him, not their past, and he wants them to find their future in their relationship with him rather than with their kin.

Those people believed that after they died, they somehow lived on in their children, so to be childless was to have no future. Children were a blessing and a promise. So, when Jesus asks his disciples to value him more than children, he is asking them to stake their future on him, and only through him would there be a future. He wants their identity. He wants being his disciple to be more important than being a mother or father. That is not to say that they should not be good parents, or good children, but rather that being his disciple would make those relationships fruitful and life giving. This is what he means by saying a disciple must lose one’s life in order to take up life again in a new way.

The demands he is making however do not seem to be for everyone. These are words spoken to those who are going out on mission in his name. Everyone is not going. However, with the second part of this Gospel, Jesus speaks to those who will remain at home when he begins to talk about hospitality. Those on mission are to become so much like Christ that welcoming them will be the same as welcoming Christ. For those who exercise this hospitality there is a bond, a solidarity that brings them all into communion. For sharing food or even that little cup of water signifies a bond, a unity, communion. Some will give up everything and take to the road for Jesus. Others give those representatives of Jesus a place in their home and in their lives.

In the end, all of us must decide which it will be for us. There is no middle option. We welcome and support those with love who carry on the most demanding part of Christ’s mission and bind ourselves to them, or we give up everything and put our hope and future into our relationship with the master.

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time June 25, 2017

Jeremiah 20, 1013 + Psalm 69 + Romans 5, 12-15 + Matthew 1o, 26-33

St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK

Matthew’s Gospel before the Passion is a series of discourses. The first is the Sermon on the Mount which describes the Father who is Blessed with instructions on how to become more like the one in whose images we are created. The second discourse which we pick up today is sometimes called the “Mission” discourse. Preparing to send out the disciples to share in his mission, Jesus speaks of the tough demands of that mission. Three times he tells them not to fear, because he knows from his own experience what fear can do to the human heart. He also tells them how to resist fear and build up their courage.

That fear must be replaced by faith, but not the kind of faith that is a comforting illusion that all is well. The faith Jesus describes is a kind of wisdom and trust that life is full of risk, of insecurity, yet real disciples can and will rejoice in it anyway. What Jesus proposes is trust that God is watching. Now every time I remind myself of this promise, I am suddenly back in grade school and Sister Mary of Holy Discipline is pointing at me say: “God is watching you.” That feeling of being watched is not comfortable; but the feeling of being
watched over” is comforting, strengthening, encouraging. This the feeling gives hope that can replace fear.

Few of us are ever likely to be beaten, tortured, or killed because we acknowledge Jesus and continue his mission of reconciliation, mercy, and justice. Yet, everyone who does knows the pain that comes from the whispers of those who criticize and judge, who mock, malign and accuse. Everyone who hears these words of Jesus today is called to be fearless and hopeful in acknowledging Jesus Christ in our families, at work, and in wider social situations. We must find the right words to speak and the wisdom to listen. Married people struggling with fidelity, young people at war with hormones, the disabled longing to be recognized as people, men and women searching for their sexual identity, the poor who are helpless and angry. All of these people need someone to listen and then respond with the voice of grace and love.

Old Jeremiah, that relentless truth teller, turns to God when he is discouraged like a mighty warrior. He does not attack those who whisper about him or seek revenge. He just let’s God take care of it all and protect him. What he asks of God is not to escape from his enemies who will be with him till the end, but that he may not despair and give up.

Once upon a time there was a mouse that had a crippling fear of cats. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of dogs. So, the magician turned it into a dog. Then it became afraid of panthers. So, the magician turned it into a panther. Then it became afraid of hunters. At this point the magician gave up. He turned it back into a mouse saying, “Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse.” My friends, we have to have the heart of Jesus Christ. When we do, there is nothing to fear.

The Body and Blood of Christ   +   June 18, 2017

Deuteronomy 8, 2-3, 14-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17 + John 6, 51-58

St Peter the Apostle and St William Parishes in Naples, Fl

To celebrate this feast, we used to call “Corpus Christi,” we have to confront a cultural barrier. Moreover, to enter into the mystery of what is being revealed in John’s sixth chapter requires more than just reading the words. What John is addressing here is human hunger, not necessarily food. Yet, we live in a world of fast food and junk food in a culture that too often eats in the car or at best, on the run; and when the wrappers are thrown away, there is still hunger. Curiously, and for me disturbingly, even in restaurants, people hardly relax to savor food and conversation. What we often find is iPads and cell phones in one hand with a fork in the other. What we are also beginning to admit is that the junk food is exactly that. It is not real food because it supplies no nourishment and is often harmful to eat. In the meantime, hunger remains.

It isn’t just junk food that we consume either. We feed our minds with trivia, news that is mostly opinion rather than fact. Instead of consuming great literature, most people seem content to devour trivial, shallow trash picked up at the check-out stand attracted by sensational headlines and photos of superstars. In the meantime, hunger remains.

Some people are awakening to this reality, and they make changes. They train themselves to walk past the processed food aisle. They turn off the TV, giving up the prepackaged opinions of hate radio and the shouting of left or right extremists. They look for and hunger for people who are engaged in real living, people whose lives are about more than work, eating, entertainment and sleeping. Some folks are looking for real food, because they are hungry for what matters, for what give life.

There is in every human life a hunger for God, and to desperate, starving people wandering in a desert, God gave food, manna every day. They had to take the “manna risk” of doing things God’s way, and not returning to Egypt. Then again in God’s own time, Jesus Christ came to feed the hungry. The Gospels are filled with accounts of this. To people who followed him into the desert, he offered ordinary bread. To the leper hungry for companionship, he offered the bread of healing. To a lonely woman at Jacob’s well, he offered the bread of human kindness and satisfied her hunger for acceptance. To sinners he offered the bread of forgiveness, and satisfied their hunger for salvation. To the rejects and outcasts, by mixing with them and sharing their bread, he offered companionship and so satisfied their hunger for self-worth. To a widow burying her only son, and to Martha and Mary who had just buried their brother, he offered the bread of compassion, and showed them that even in death we are not beyond the reach of God’s help. To Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector who robbed bread from the tables of the poor, Jesus invited himself to his table. Then, awakening within him a hunger for a better life, he got him to share his money with the poor.

This Eucharist we gather to celebrate here week after week is real food for us that can satisfy every hunger. “Flesh and Blood” is a way of referring to a human being, not just tissue and fluid, and that is what this Feast is about: being human. Way more than processions and walking behind a monstrance, this feast is about the mystery into which we drawn here, the Body and Blood of Christ. This is what gives us the strength to walk in the power of Christ’s presence day after day aware of our dignity, our communion, and our responsibility for one another.

When we hold out our hands and accept the broken bread, we are daring to take hold of a body that was broken in death and rose in freedom. When we drink the cup, we pledge ourselves to solidarity. That is the meaning of drinking from the same cup. We become one with the losers, the powerless, the have-nots, the “dregs” of society, the sinners for whom Jesus drained the cup of suffering. So today we focus on what we easily forget: that every Eucharist must create in us a great sense of unease about disunity, discrimination, and hypocrisy in the body of Christ. It must make us bold in assuming the work of Jesus with the gifts of his Spirit. This then, is the gathering place, a stopping place, a resting place for us who are on the way to Kingdom of Justice and Peace.

The Most Holy Trinity   +   June 11, 2017

Exodus 34, 4-6, 8-9 + Psalm Deuteronomy 3, 52-56 + 2 Corinthians 13, 11-13 + John 3, 16-18

St Peter the Apostle and St William Parishes in Naples, Fl

With this Sunday’s focus on the Most Holy Trinity in mind, I came across this little story several weeks ago. It seems that a farmer went into the city, and while walking down a busy street he suddenly stopped and said to a friend who was with him, “I can hear a cricket.” His friend was amazed and asked, “How can you hear a cricket in the midst of all this noise?” “Because my ears are attuned to his sound,” the farmer replied. Then he listened even more intently, and following the sound, found the cricket perched on a window ledge. His friend couldn’t get over this. But the farmer showed no surprise. Instead he took a few coins out of his pocket and threw them on the pavement. On hearing the jingle of coins, passers-by stopped in their tracks. “You see what I mean?” said the farmer, “None of those people could hear the sound of the cricket, but all of them could hear the sound of the money. People hear what their ears are attuned to hear, and are deaf to all the rest.”

It’s a powerful little story that left me thinking about what I see and what I hear; what I look for and what I listen to. For me it is impossible to look at a work of art and not wonder about the artist or listen to a magnificent piece of music and wonder about the composer, how they thought of it, imagined it, and then crafted it. This is the way that creation proclaims God, its Creator. To look on creation and not see the Creator is to be blind to the meaning of the whole of creation and of ourselves.  Yet sadly many look and see nothing. They listen and hear nothing. Jesus spoke about God as a merciful and forgiving Father. He spoke about himself as the Son of the Father. And he sent the Holy Spirit to us to help us live as his disciples and as daughters and sons of God.

Complex and profound as it is, the Trinity is not something we explain. It is something we reveal by our lives together as a church. We can see the Creator through creation if we simply look and wonder. We can hear the voice of God in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. His words speak to us about our privileged place in creation as the Father’s most beloved and chosen ones. We experience the creative, healing, and loving Spirit of the Father and the Son when we are with them and with each other as church and as the Body of Christ. The gift of this Spirit comes to those who are gathered together in that room. That assembly, that unity, that bond they share is where the Spirit is found, celebrate, and best revealed, and it is the same for us. When we are gathered together, one with each other with the Father and with the Son, we experience the Spirit with all of its power, its peace, and its joy.

As the farmer said in that story, “People hear what their ears are attuned to, and they are deaf to all the rest.” The same applies to what we see. People see what they are looking for, and they are blind to all the rest. We are a people who look upon creation and all of God’s people. We see the beauty, the promise, and the face of a loving God who in one final act of love came to give life and light where there was darkness and death, and then remain with us always through the Spirit that binds us as one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost June 4, 2017

Acts 2, 1-11 + Psalm 104 + 1 Corinthians 12, 3-7, 12-13 + John 20, 19-23

Aboard the MS Maasdam and at St Peter and St William Parishes in Naples, FL

For years, I have listened to this Gospel story and put myself in that room and in that company. Now remember, these are the people who did nothing and said nothing as Jesus was hauled off, mocked, abused, tortured, and killed. They knew he was innocent. They did nothing. In fact, their leader even denied knowing Jesus. Putting yourself in that room requires some real self-knowledge. I have tried, and I have come to feel that the doors were not necessarily locked for “fear of the Jews” which is John’s code language for the opponents of Jesus. Besides, those doors were not the only thing barricaded. If I had been through what they had been through, my heart would have been barricaded as well, because my heart was broken with disappointment and shame over what I had done and failed to do.

Hope was locked out as well, because hope was broken. We’ve all been there, disappointed and protecting ourselves from more disappointment by expecting the worst rather than allowing any more disappointment and pain. But the fact is, they had already heard that the tomb was empty. Allowing hope over what it could mean was out of the question. Yet just possibly he was risen, alive, and there were reports to this effect. So, in shame possibly more than in fear, they locked the doors. When you have betrayed a friend, failed to come to their aid, and even denied knowing them, the last person you want to see is that friend. It’s not hard to imagine why that door was locked.

Then the tomb breaker is in their midst. So much for locks and barricades! Hope will not be stifled. Peace is the greeting. But, this gift of peace that he brings is far more than we imagine with our English language definition of that word. The greeting and the gift he announces is not about the absence of war or conflict. It is the opposite of chaos. It is the right ordering of all things and all relationships. The people in that room were in chaos. He has come to take them out of chaos, which is a kind of re-creation. He is going to make something of them, and for that matter he is still doing so with us.

As John tells the story, Jesus comes with his wounds, because a risen Lord with no wounds would not have much to say to the wounded people in that room or anywhere else. It has always struck me that people who have suffered the most are comforted and attracted to images of Christ that are anguished and bloody. I have also observed that some who have suffered little in life prefer to surround themselves with images of Christ that are sentimental and hardly human.

There is a story told about a man who died and arrived at the gates of heaven. The guardian at the gate said: “Show me your wounds.” To which the man answered, “I don’t have any.” The guardian then said: “Did you ever think that anything or anyone was worth fighting for?” And with that, there was silence. The one who stood in the midst of that chaos knew that his sisters and brothers were worth fighting for. Our wounds tell us who we are like the tattoos on the hands and arms of Jewish people. The bumps, scrapes, and scars of lives well lived tell the story. For some life seems to drain out of them through their hurts. They become bitter and lifeless. They have no hope and no future. They never really live again. For others, new life comes from these broken places, and this is resurrection; and it is a call to go, be broken and suffer a bit for the sake of another. Peace be with you.