Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on May 19, 2024

Covenants Renewed and Transformed

Covenants Renewed and Transformed

The feast of Pentecost began as a harvest festival in Israel. By the time of Jesus’ life, it had become a festival celebrating the gift of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, when Moses went up the mountain to meet the Lord and returned with the tablets of the Law. It was a festival celebrating and renewing the covenant between the Lord and the Jewish people.

Fifty days after the Resurrection, and after Jesus had been taken from their sight at the Ascension, the apostles and close followers of Jesus were gathered in a room in Jerusalem to pray, as Jesus had instructed them to do. This day was the feast of Pentecost. A loud noise began in the room, like a mighty wind on a mountain top, and flames that looked like tongues of fire appeared over the heads of those gathered there. On Mt. Sinai, there had been a loud wind, flames, and a loud voice signaling the presence of the Lord. Now these were being experienced in a room in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit swept into each person in that room and they were transformed. No longer frightened and hiding in fear for their lives, they began to praise the Lord boldly and speak of what they had seen and heard, using languages they had never before spoken.

Folks outside noticed the uproar and wondered what was happening. Jews from all over the world were there for the feast and noticed that what they were hearing was in the languages of all the surrounding countries, including Rome. More surprising, what they heard was the disciples telling of “the mighty acts of God.”

The reading from Acts of the Apostles for this feast of Pentecost stops at this point, but the actual story goes on. Peter went out and spoke to the crowd, telling them about the Resurrection and the new covenant that God was establishing with all who would believe and follow the Lord Jesus. Large numbers of people believed and the growth of the community began in earnest on that day.

This day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of a promise Jesus made before his death. St. John speaks of the promised Advocate who would come and testify to the disciples of the truth that Jesus had taught them. They in turn were to go out to the world and testify to what they had heard. Since so much of what Jesus had taught them was still hard to comprehend, the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, would come and guide them to understand it. In this, the Advocate would make clear the meaning of what Jesus had received from the Father and shared with them.

This process of understanding all they had heard was only beginning at the first Pentecost. Many controversies, many changes, many years of discussing and coming to new understandings awaited the community. When folks with one set of ideas came to town and began to teach ideas different than those initially presented by Paul or the other apostles, it became necessary for these leaders to remind members of the communities that were in turmoil what the fundamental teaching was. One major conflict revolved around how much of the ancient Jewish Law was to be required of new members of the community, particularly those who were Gentiles. Did they need to become Jews? What did it mean to live by the Spirit? Did that mean by the ancient Law or something else?

St. Paul devoted many of his letters to dealing with these questions. How do we recognize life in the Spirit?  Paul explained that living by the spirit meant denying many kinds of actions we commonly see among humans – actions that have negative effects on life in community or family. Instead, living in the Spirit would result in what he called “the fruit of the Spirit … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These things are all signs of the presence of the Spirit in our lives. We receive the gifts we need to serve the Lord in the ways He calls us to serve the community. And together we become one body of Christ.

All of this brings us to some important questions. What does it mean to live in the Spirit today? Has that changed from what it was in the past? Was it all set in stone nearly two thousand years ago? Or are there new understandings that can come to us today?

How does our covenant with God become renewed and transformed through the centuries. At the time of the Apostles and early Christians, there was an expectation that Jesus would return in glory within at most a hundred years or so, maybe even sooner. But that didn’t happen.

As our community of faith has continued and grown through the centuries, many men and women have pondered these questions. Many wise ones have written their thoughts, observations, insights into living in the Spirit. The teachings have been organized, categorized, shaped into traditions and ways of doing things (laws). They have grown and developed along with the growth of knowledge in science, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, literature, and all the many areas of human inquiry.

As we today deal with new questions that arise from the realities of our lives, as well as some very old challenges dating from the dawn of human history, how do we know what the Spirit is guiding us to do? What do we bless? What do we reject? What do we seek to transform? How do we determine which is the option to which the Spirit is calling us?

We can go back to a fundamental insight from Paul – when we are under the Spirit, we are not bound by old laws that do not lead to the blossoming and development of the fruit of the Spirit. If it’s not loving, joyful, peaceful, and so forth, then it may not be of the Spirit. But if it is, and if it includes more people and opens the gates to loving patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, kindness, and self-control, then we know the Spirit is present.

God’s time is not our own. The gifts of the Spirit and their fruits are ever new in our lives. The covenant is continually being renewed and transformed. We open our eyes to the insights of our contemporary world. We recognize that many things we humans believed in the past might not have been totally accurate. We admit that we don’t yet know everything. And we keep our ears and eyes open to see where the Spirit will lead us now.

It’s Pentecost. We rejoice this week that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is here among us – teaching, guiding, laughing, playing, and bringing joy and peace to our hearts.

Alleluia.

Readings for the Feast of Pentecost – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 25, 2024

Put to the Test by God

Put to the Test by God

The twelve-year-old boy rushed breathlessly into my classroom and came straight up to me with a question that had been on his mind for days. “He didn’t kill him, did he?” he demanded to know. He was the older son in a troubled family and had only consciously heard the first part of the story of God’s test of Abraham’s faith during Mass on the Sunday before our class. I’m sure the entire reading had been proclaimed, but he had not heard it. He had waited until we met on Thursday afternoon, worrying about this terrible command God had given to Abraham – to sacrifice his only son. How could this be? What kind of God would do such a thing? How could a good God require the killing of a child? He had been so shocked by the mere thought of God asking a man to kill his only son that he stopped hearing anything more right at that point. He had not heard the rest of the story at all and was deeply relieved when I assured him that in fact, God had not allowed any harm to come to Abraham’s child.

This story of the testing of Abraham (Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13,15-18) and many others like it are deeply troubling to us.  Why would anyone ever think that our God could or would demand the blood sacrifice of children? Why would Abraham have believed that about God?

One of the great challenges we humans face is to be able to conceive of a reality dramatically different from the one in which we live. How can we imagine a person who never loses his or her temper? How can it be possible always to be forgiven? Wouldn’t the fear of punishment be needed to force people to follow the rules? And how can anyone establish that fear without actually punishing someone severely and publicly for misbehavior?

When we listen to the readings from both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, it’s important that we realize we are looking back in time to a very different day and age. Additionally, we are looking from the perspective of a different culture, with different understandings of human behavior and the nature of God.

Abraham lived in a time in which all the people among whom he lived had their own local god or gods whom they believed guided and protected them. These gods were very much like the people who worshiped them: territorial, jealous, protective of those they considered to be their own, impatient, always demanding proof of the good will of others.

The gods of the peoples among whom Abraham and his family lived sometimes required the sacrifice of firstborn sons as proof of loyalty and obedience. They required families to prove their faith by sacrificing a child, typically a son because sons were seen as more valuable. It was rare for families not to have children, so this rule was not hard to enforce.

Abraham would have seen this practice and assumed that the God he first met back home in Mesopotamia would want the same kind of sacrifice from him. Blessedly for Abraham and all of us who follow in worshiping his God, this is not what God requires. Sometimes, we are asked to make tremendous sacrifices. Other times, what we are asked to sacrifice is not life-shaking or life-changing. Nevertheless, when we are asked to make a sacrifice, it is not something easy for us to do. If it were, it wouldn’t really be a sacrifice now, would it?

When Jesus was born, he was truly human and truly God. One hundred percent on both fronts! Not a demi-god – half human and half divine. Fully human. Fully divine. As a human, Jesus did not know everything. He learned like any child what was expected of him as a man. He lived like everyone else, not at all remarkable. Yet when he heard God’s voice at his baptism in the Jordan River, he knew all had changed in that moment. He began to understand how dramatically things had changed. The kingdom had come. His mission was to proclaim it to all who would listen.

Some people welcomed the news. Some were frightened by it. Some thought it too good to be true. Some worried that they would lose their positions of influence. Some probably worried that the Romans who ruled their country would again kill thousands of people for rebelling against the Empire. The notion that a prophet, anointed by God to preach the coming of God’s kingdom, would not be a threat to Roman power was unheard of. Of course they would see it as a threat! How could the threat be minimized?

Jesus needed to testify in Jerusalem to what had happened to him, to the leaders of his community, the priests and teachers at the temple. The kingdom of God was here now. It was essential for them to hear this good news. So he began his journey, teaching and healing as he went along. A group of people accompanied him. Some were with him for a long while and became close companions. Others came for a while and left when his words became frightening or impossible for them to believe.

One day, when he had become very aware of the danger of execution he would be facing in Jerusalem, he went up to a mountain top with three of his closest friends to pray. Mountain tops have often been places where God and humans have met. This day was the same. Jesus and his friends were visited by two historical figures: Moses who received the Law from God and Elijah the prophet who was carried away by a heavenly chariot at the end of his life. Jesus himself began to shine with an unearthly light, his clothes whiter than any bleach could make them. The disciples saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. Then they saw a cloud that came and cast a shadow over the mountain. God often appeared in a cloud and this was no exception. The voice that came from the cloud told them Jesus was his beloved son. They were to listen to him. (Mk 9:2-10)

Interestingly, God spoke similar words to Abraham about his son Isaac, referring to him as “your beloved son.” Abraham’s willingness to give all to God was rewarded with God’s returning of the son to him. An animal was offered in sacrifice instead of the child. (My young student was much relieved to hear that good news!)

When Jesus himself faced the decision whether to complete his mission and bring the good news to the authorities, risking his own death in the process, or to drop the whole thing and go back to being a village carpenter in Galilee, he chose to move forward and take the chance. It was not an easy choice and it cost him his life. But God his Father did not allow it all to end with that suffering and death. God brought Jesus through death to a return to life – a life that will never end, the life of the Trinity.

St. Paul and other early Christians explained that with the resurrection, God forgave all of us for the times we do not obey the divine will. Christ intercedes for us, because he is one of us and has lived a fully human life. He knows what it is to be human. (Rom 8:31b-34)

In a very real way, our God who created humans, was now not so totally envisioned in the human terms that cast him as if he were a jealous, controlling, person. Instead, he came to be known as one who understood and forgave all, because he had come to be one of us through the life of his son the Word of God, Jesus. God knows what it is to be human, so God can and will forgive all who ask for forgiveness. We are put to the test, but so is God. God never fails the test of love. God was even willing to go through with the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, so that all of us would know how much we are loved and could trust deeply in that love.

As we continue our journey through Lent this year, may we remember that God is truly with us on the journey. We are not alone. Our sacrifices, big and small, are noted. Our reaching out in love to those we meet along the way is an essential part of God’s plan for all of us. And God sees each of us as a beloved child.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Jan 14, 2024

Called by God to be …

Called by God to be …

Members of Christ, Temples of the Holy Spirit, Called by God.

Each of us is especially treasured by God, created to be unique, and given gifts to share freely. Yet, since we are born into families and cultures with characteristics and expectations that are shared by many others, we don’t always recognize our uniqueness or our inherent value. We hear and observe that we are like our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins in many ways. We join together with others of our general age and interests, finding comfort and encouragement from our peers, as well as challenges that make us examine our own values and require us to make choices that are not always easy.

When and how do we hear the Lord’s voice calling us to the unique service only we can give? Sometimes the call is obvious. Often it is a subtle urging and growing sense that a certain path is to be followed or that a particular dream is ours to bring to our world.

Samuel, for example, was still very young when he was called. His mother was already old and barren when during a visit to the temple she asked the Lord for a child. The next year when her son was born, she recognized the great gift she had received. She and her husband consecrated their son to serve the Lord at the temple when he was old enough to leave them. He worked with Eli, a priest who served at the temple, learning how to serve in that role and care for the Ark of the Covenant which was there. God was present among his people where the Ark was present.

One night, Samuel was awakened by a voice calling his name. (1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19) Naturally, he assumed Eli needed something and hurried to him. Eli woke up when Samuel came asking what was needed and sent him back to bed. The same thing happened three times. By the third time, Eli figured out what was going on. He told Samuel that if he heard the voice again, he was to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” When the voice awakened him a fourth time, Samuel did as he had been instructed. The Lord spoke to him directly and called him to service as a prophet, one who would speak the Lord’s words to the people and lead them in the Lord’s service. This was before there were kings in Israel. The prophet’s words were intended to be taken as the Lord’s guidance for what to do as a people, in good times and in bad.

No one expected Samuel to become a prophet. He was not in any sort of training program for this role. He was still very young. No one would have thought to listen to his words as those of the Lord. Yet that is what happened when the Lord chose him for the role. He served for many years as the Lord’s prophet. Eventually, when the people were determined to have a king like the neighboring peoples did, he voiced the Lord’s warning that kings were over-rated and would not be a great idea for them. True as this turned out to be, the people were determined, so with the Lord’s help, Samuel selected and anointed Israel’s first king. When that one didn’t work out well, the Lord sent Samuel to anoint David as successor to Saul. But that’s another story.

Bottom line, the Lord called Samuel. Samuel didn’t go looking for the job!

Two of John the Baptist’s disciples were standing with him one day when Jesus walked by them. (Jn 1:35-42) John commented, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” What a strange thing to say about a person, but John had never pretended that his role was to do anything other than to call people to repentance and to prepare the community for the coming of the Anointed One, the one sent by God to restore the ancient relationship between God and humans. By John’s time, most expected someone who would lead the country to freedom from domination by foreign powers, but still, he recognized Jesus and pointed him out to his own followers.

Andrew and the other disciple followed Jesus. He noticed them and asked them, “What are you looking for?” Notice that he spoke first. When they asked where he was staying, he invited them to come and see. After a few hours of conversation, Andrew left and got his brother Simon. He told Simon they had found the Messiah and brought him to Jesus. Again, Jesus took the initiative. He greeted Simon by giving him a new name, Peter, the rock.

These three men heard the call of the Lord when they met Jesus. At least two of them had been looking for the Messiah whom John had foretold, but they had no idea he would show up the way he did in their lives, inviting them to come and have a chat. Simon had no idea his future would be completely changed when his brother urged him to come and visit with Jesus.

Many, many other people have heard the Lord’s call through the centuries. The traditions and expectations of their cultures have shaped their understanding and practices when interacting with the Lord. Sometimes the cultural patterns and behaviors have not been compatible with their new life as sisters and brothers of the Lord, children of God. This was the case in Corinth, where St. Paul admonished the new Christians to recognize and remember that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20) They are not to behave as if there were nothing special or sacred about them.  God has loved them and claimed them at a high price, the sacrifice of his Son.

God calls each of us too. Some have said that God doesn’t call people directly anymore, but in my experience, that is incorrect. God does call people. Sometimes the call is subtle. Sometimes it’s more direct. Sometimes we say no. We’re always free to do that.  When we do, God has been known to chuckle and say, “OK, do it your way!” If you ever hear God say this, do yourself a favor, try it his way! It’s sure to work out better in the long run.

We are called – to be members of Christ’s body, temples of the Holy Spirit, and bearers of the love of God into our world here and now. It can be a daunting challenge. But when the chips are down, none of us is alone. The Lord is always with us, inviting us to stop by and have a chat or to join him on the road for a chat. On we go… together!

Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Nov 12, 2023

The Lady Wisdom at the Gate

The Lady Wisdom at the Gate

Come with me for a little walk today. It’s a walk through our daily life. We’re going to visit some old friends and some new ones too. Along the way, we’ll see some people we don’t know. One person in particular whom we hope to see will be a model and guide for our journey, the Lady Wisdom.

This Lady whom we hope to see is described in the Book of Wisdom. She is “resplendent and unfading … readily perceived by those who seek her.” This gives us hope for our journey. If we are seeking her, we will see her.

So where do we look for her? And when are we likely to see her? Will she be found in gatherings of teachers and students who are seeking the mysteries of the universe? Will she be present at fine restaurants and banquets where leaders of industry and government meet and share a meal? Will she be at department stores, among the fine clothing and perfumes? How about in the kitchen as we sit and visit after dinner and then clean up the dishes?

Wisdom herself tells us that she will help us find her. (Wis 6:12-16) She will sit outside our door in the early morning, waiting for us to get up and venture out into the world. We might not see her though. We must be looking for her if we hope to see her, keeping our eyes open. What will we see as we go on our way? The homes of our neighbors. The trees and flowers in the gardens. The people getting ready to go to work and school. Those coming home after working through the night. Will we see their joys and sorrows too? Will we notice their hopes and the places they are in need of encouragement and healing?

This Lady Wisdom meets all who seek her as they travel through the day. She makes her rounds and visits all, bringing love and hope and joy with her as her gift. In the process, she opens our eyes to see the needs of others and their joy and gifts as well.

We don’t generally think of wisdom as being masculine or feminine in our daily lives. We think of wise people as those who know many things and make good choices that lead to happy, successful lives. But in scripture, particularly in the Books of Wisdom and Proverbs, Wisdom is more than that. Wisdom is feminine and intimate. There are at least three words that are translated as Wisdom in the Scriptures, but the one in question here is characterized by a sense of intimacy with God. Wisdom is connected with the divine. She is radiant, reflecting the Lord’s light. Wisdom leads us to union with God through our connection with all of creation and all of God’s people.

Wisdom helps us see hope in difficult times. When people we love become ill or die, Wisdom helps us trust that they will rise through the gift of the Lord. (1 Thes 4:13-18) When we meet others who are having hard times financially or personally, Wisdom helps us walk with them, sharing their burden and helping to make it easier. We won’t always be able to resolve the problem or make it go away, but being present can be the most important gift we can give. Moral support in hard times cannot be purchased.

Wisdom also helps keep us on our toes, ready to meet the Lord when he comes. When we have met him in our daily lives, in our contacts with folks who may need a help to support their families, with those who are seeking a safe place to live and raise their children, with those who hope to go to school and enter a career, with those who are sick or dying, and so many, many more, we will be more like the wise virgins of Jesus’ story, who had the oil they needed to keep their lamps burning late into the night. (Mt 25:1-13)

Many years ago, a group called the Medical Missionary Sisters produced an album called “Joy is Like the Rain.” One of the songs was titled, “It’s a Long Road to Freedom.” It is ringing in my head this day. “It’s a long road to freedom, a winding steep and high, but when you walk in love with the wind on your wings, and cover the earth with the songs you sing, the miles fly by.”

When we walk with Wisdom on our journey, we walk in love and the miles do fly by. The Lady Wisdom sits at the gate waiting for each of us to notice her and journey with her through our days. May we be blessed with open eyes to recognize her.

Readings for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Read More

Posted by on Oct 8, 2023

Not All Grapes are Grapes

Not All Grapes are Grapes

In one corner of our back yard when I was growing up there was a plant whose leaves were sharp like those of holly. The bush had small flowers in the spring and blue berries in summer and fall. We were used to picking and eating huckleberries in the fall. They looked a lot like the fruit on this plant, though the leaves were different. But this plant was called Oregon Grape, and we never ate the “grapes” that grew on it. We might have tried the berries, but my mother cautioned us that they really didn’t taste good, despite being called grapes and looking like grapes. The bushes just grew in the corner of the garden as a part of the unchanging shrubbery. Not grapes at all, it seems.

The grapes we hear Isaiah describe in his story of the vineyard remind me of the Oregon Grapes in our back yard. However, in Isaiah’s story, the owner of the vineyard was expecting real grapes, ones that could be eaten or made into wine. (Is 5:-7) He cleared the land, planted high quality vines, took good care of the plants. He even prepared a wine press – all with the expectation that a good harvest would follow in the fall.

Imagine the disappointment of the owner of the vineyard when the fruit appeared on the vines. Instead of plump, sweet grapes, he found small wild grapes that could never be made into wine or other good foods for the family or community. It was like finding Oregon Grapes growing on his vines. This fruit was unusable. The vineyard was a total failure. A waste of time and money. What a terrible disappointment.

The owner of the vineyard responded by breaking down the protective walls of the vineyard and letting it be returned to an untended state. The vines were useless, except as food for wild animals.

Isaiah here reminds the people of his time that the Lord’s vineyard is the people of Judah, the house of Israel. If this vineyard of the Lord is not producing good fruit, it will suffer the same fate as the vineyard which produced wild grapes rather than the rich, plump, domestic grapes that the owner had expected. The Lord will stop protecting the nation from their foes. Their land will be destroyed and they will be scattered.

The image of the Lord’s people as a vineyard is ancient. We see it in the psalms, including Psalm 80. “A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it. It put forth its foliage to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River.” In other words, the people have increased in numbers and filled the new land into which they moved after their time in Egypt and wandering in the desert. Yet they have not always remained faithful and at times it’s as if the walls of the vineyard have been broken down and passersby have taken its fruits. Wild animals have eaten the plants. Nevertheless, the psalmist calls on the Lord to rescue and protect the vineyard and the vines planted there once again. When the vineyard has been restored, the people will remain faithful, the Lord’s face will shine on them, and all will be saved.

Jesus also described a vineyard. (Mt 21:33-43) In this case, the landowner leased out the vineyard he had planted to tenants. The tenants would receive a part of the harvest as payment for their labor. The rest would go to the landowner, as a return on the investment in the land and the vineyard.

When the time came for the harvest, the landowner was away. He sent his servants to collect his share of the harvest. The tenants beat and killed the servants rather than give them the grapes for which they had come. The landowner sent more servants, but the tenants killed them too. Finally, the landowner’s own son was sent to collect the harvest from the tenants. The greedy tenants killed the landlord’s son rather than send the harvest to him.

Jesus asked those with whom he was speaking what the landlord would do in such a situation. (Always good to include your listeners in figuring out what comes next in a story or lesson.) They answered quickly that the tenants would be killed and new ones entrusted with the vineyard.

Then Jesus reminded them that just as the stone the builders had rejected became the cornerstone of the Lord’s building, the kingdom of God would be passed to other people if the people to whom it had originally been entrusted did not care for it and produce good fruit.

So what kind of grapes (or behavior) is the Lord hoping will be harvested? What are the good grapes?

St. Paul tells us that whatever we need, we can ask of God. (Phil 4:6-9) The peace of God will fill our hearts and minds, guarding and guiding them. The grapes we will see in such situations are truth, honorable behavior, justice, purity, beauty, graciousness, excellence, and actions worthy of praise. These are the kinds of grapes our landlord, the owner of the vineyard of the Lord, is hoping to receive. As long as our lives are producing these good fruits, these true “grapes,” the God of peace will be with us.

It’s still harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern, spring is bringing the hope and promise of a rich harvest. But for us, the harvest is on. The race to finish all that needs to be done before winter storms begin is in full swing. Grapes are being harvested. Will we and our lives be seen as sweet, rich grapes, filled with love and kindness? The Oregon Grapes are ripe too, but once again this year, they will remain on the shrub in the back yard for the birds and other animals to eat. Not all grapes are grapes!

May we bear rich fruit this week, reflecting the loving work of our Father, the vineyard owner.

Readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Aug 20, 2023

Mercy that Excludes No One

Mercy that Excludes No One

Did you ever think about whether Jesus knew that his mission was not limited to the Jewish people? I had not really thought much about it, having grown up as a member of the Church. Then one day, I read the story of what happened when Jesus went across the border into an area which was not historically nor actually at that time a part of the kingdom of Israel. The area in question was around the cities of Tyre and Sidon, on the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel.

Jesus’ reputation as a healer preceded him. A woman from that area came to where he was. She was a Canaanite, one of the traditional enemies of the Israelites. She came to ask him to heal her daughter, who was being tormented by a demon. Today we would say she had a mental illness.

Jesus simply ignored her. He did not even respond negatively. Just silence. As if she didn’t even exist. She was a woman and a foreigner. No concern of his.

His disciples were irritated with her. She kept calling after them, requesting healing for her child. They asked him to send her away. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” was his response.

But she was persistent. She bowed before him and begged, “Lord, help me.”

We often think of Jesus as a kind, patient, polite man, but this time he was just plain rude. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs!” Pretty clear who was being compared to a dog.

This mother did not let that insult stop her. She was desperate for healing for her child. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

This brought an insight to Jesus. Healing could be for those who had faith. It is not limited to any religious or ethnic group. “O, woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The child was healed and Jesus learned an important lesson about God’s mercy and his mission. No one is to be excluded who comes in faith. (Mt 15:21-28)

This was not actually a new idea in Judaism. Isaiah spoke of a similar idea to the folks who had returned from exile in Babylon. Their temple had been rebuilt and now it was possible to offer sacrifice there again. But what about all the time away and the time before the temple was rebuilt? How had it been possible to keep the sabbath holy and to maintain the covenant with the Lord if temple sacrifice could not be offered?

The Lord, through his prophet, told them to take notice of what is right and just. Watch and see how the Lord’s justice is revealed. It is revealed as foreigners join themselves to the Lord and become his servants. All who keep the sabbath and hold on to the covenant will be welcomed to the holy mountain of the Lord. Their sacrifices offered on the altar will be as valid as those of the original community. The Lord’s house is “a house of prayer for all peoples.” No one will be excluded from his mercy. (Is 56:1, 6-7)

St. Paul expresses the community’s understanding of the Lord’s call in his letter to the Romans. He speaks of himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles.” He has been sent to spread the message of God’s love and mercy beyond the Jewish community into the entire world. If the people of Israel had welcomed Jesus with open arms and become his followers, it’s quite possible that the faith would not have expanded out to include everyone. Paul says that in their refusal to believe, their disobedience, his own people had made it possible for Gentiles, all the other peoples of the world, to receive the Lord’s mercy and love. No one is to be excluded. (Rom 11:13-15, 29-32)

As our communities divide into camps with opposing ideas these days, I believe we are again called to ask ourselves if we are truly willing to accept each other and wish each other well. Are we sisters and brothers in the Lord? Are we sisters and brothers, children of one creator. Are we equally loved and forgiven for our small mindedness and smug self-confidence. Too often we say, “I know what is right and you are totally wrong!”

In religious circles, it is especially important to be patient and loving with each other. We may not agree on all topics. Some will be more open to changes in social standards and structures than others. Some may interpret Scripture more literally than others. Some will distrust the findings of social or physical sciences. However, all are children of the same Father, who calls all to mercy and mutual forgiveness.

How do we keep from being a community that turns in on itself when confronted with others who have different experiences of God’s presence and love? How do we remain open and welcoming? Is it by condemning those whose ways are different from ours? Or by setting up rules and regulations to restrict access to the Eucharist and sacraments? Or do we recognize that God is bigger than all of our rules and categories. God loves all of creation and especially all people. He did, after all, according to our very ancient tradition, create us in his own image and likeness,. If that is truly the case, then we are called, like Jesus himself, to be open to those whose ways are different from our own. We are called to offer healing and reconciliation in and between communities. We are called to let the power and unrestricted love of our Father flow out through us to heal those who are suffering, physically, socially, mentally, spiritually.

God’s mercy excludes no one. So we must not exclude others either. Instead, we come together in prayer and Eucharistic thanksgiving to remember and be nourished. Then we go forth into our world and share the graces and blessings received as we allow the love of God to flow out in healing mercy through us.

This week, let’s focus on seeing the goodness and mercy of God in our families, our neighbors, our communities, and our world. All are welcomed in the Kingdom of God and all receive the merciful love of our Father.

Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Aug 13, 2023

Why Did You Doubt?

Why Did You Doubt?

As humans, we like to have things in our lives happen in predictable ways. Babies learn to expect certain patterns of behavior from the people around them. I cry, someone picks me up and feeds me, or changes my diaper, or helps me burp. I can count on getting reassurance and help when I need it. If I don’t, something is terribly wrong and I will tell the world about it at the top of my lungs!

With older children and adults, life is easier if we know what to expect. What time do I need to get up? When do we eat? What do we eat? Where do I have to be at noon? And so on.

When natural disasters hit, or wars, or even unexpected heat or rain that upsets planned or ordinary activities, we want to know why that happened. Historically, people have blamed the natural disasters on divine activity. The gods are angry, with each other or with us. Think of the stories of Zeus or Thor, who used thunderbolts or a great hammer to fight when displeased.

Middle Eastern peoples also interpreted such happenings as being the result of the displeasure of their gods. This form of explanation was simply part of their everyday experience.

The prophet Elijah ran into trouble with the king when he defeated and killed the priests of Baal. Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, was not amused. In fact, she tried to wipe out all of the priests and prophets of the Lord. Elijah escaped into the wilderness, where an angel gave him food and drink, then sent him on his way to the mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb/Mount Sinai. On the mountain top, there was a cave. Elijah was nervous about being on the Lord’s mountain. It was dangerous. If you saw the Lord, you would die.

But the Lord told him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord…” Before Elijah could do as he was told there was an uproar outside. The wind roared around the mountain. Rocks were crushed. There was an earthquake, then a fire. To the ancients, all of these were signs of the presence of the divine.

But God wasn’t in these physical events. After all the uproar, there was a tiny, whispering sound. That was the presence of the Lord and Elijah hid his face in his cloak, then went out to meet the Lord. (1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a)

Jesus’ disciples also had a frightening experience. They had just seen Jesus feed a huge crowd of people with just a few loaves of bread and a few small fish – the lunch of a child who offered to help feed the rest. Jesus had sent the disciples to return home with the boat across the Sea of Galilee, a large inland lake. He sent the people home and went up on the mountain by himself for a little while to pray. (Taking time out to pray by himself was a common practice for him.)

From the mountain he noticed that a great storm had arisen on the lake and the boat was struggling to stay afloat. So he went down from the mountain. Just before dawn, the disciples noticed something coming across the water. They most likely believed there were monsters deep in the lake who caused storms. Ghosts were also easily believable in the middle of a storm. So, when they saw a figure coming across the top of the water, they were terrified.

Jesus called out to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Well, could that be true? Might that be the kind of thing a ghost would say to lure them into a false sense of security? Peter responded, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said simply, “Come.” And Peter went over the side of the boat and walked towards Jesus.

All was well until Peter stopped to think about what he had just done. He had stepped over the side of the boat, in the middle of a storm, on a deep lake and was now walking towards what was either a ghost or his friend Jesus. Since people don’t walk on water, it might have just been a terrible mistake on his part. As such thoughts entered his mind, he began to sink into the water. He called out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus reached out a hand and saved him, saying “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The waters calmed and they got safely to the boat again.

The use of the term Lord was significant. That was a term used for God. The disciples recognized who their friend was and bowed down to honor him. “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Once again, the storms raged, the winds blew, disaster was upon ordinary people, and the Lord was there, quietly reassuring them. Elijah on the mountain, and the Lord was in the quiet whisper outside the cave. Peter sinking in the waters of the lake. “Why did you doubt?” I am here in the midst of it all. (Mt 14:22-33)

We can think we’ve got everything under control. We want to share our faith and our experiences with others. We have a good job, or at least a steady one. Our children are healthy. And then something unexpected happens. We lose a job. A friend gets cancer. A pandemic shuts down the world. Forest fires darken the skies with smoke. Hurricanes and tornadoes destroy communities. And we wonder what we did wrong. Why did God let these terrible things happen to us? Did God do all of this to punish us? Are these indicators that the end of time is upon us?

I think it’s important to remember Jesus’ question, “Why did you doubt?”

What is it that you doubt? What do I doubt? Which promise of the Lord do I need to trust more deeply.

In this week, let’s try to remember to trust that we are loved deeply and unconditionally by our Lord. Whatever happens, it’s not that God is angry and out to get me. It may be that there are unexpected consequences to choices we have made, but God doesn’t set out to punish us. We are free to make our choices and they don’t always work out as we had expected.

Sometimes, the hard or unexpected things that happen are the result of the actions of others. In those times, the Lord is with us too, sharing in our pain and offering loving support to help us get through the troubles. He has been through hard times too. He knows our pain and suffering. He wants to help and offer a hand to lift us out of the waters of doubt and despair.

With Peter, we reach out to his offered hand. We return to the boat, having recognized our Lord.

Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Jul 30, 2023

Wisdom – Thinking with the Heart

Wisdom – Thinking with the Heart

“Use your head!” “Don’t be a fool!” “Don’t waste what you’ve got, use it carefully!” “They wouldn’t be in this position if they’d just been more sensible!”

How many times have we all heard these kinds of statements, sometimes addressed directly to us? It’s a common understanding in Western culture that decision making is best done with the mind, a.k.a. the head. We think of the heart as the center of emotions, and emotions are not regarded as the best sources of good decisions.

In ancient Israel, the heart was seen as both the center for emotions and the center for decision-making. When the Lord came to King Solomon in a dream at night and asked what gift Solomon would like to receive, Solomon gave an unusual answer. He had become king at a young age and had to defeat many enemies, including one of his brothers, to establish control over the kingdom. Once that was settled, still a young man, he began to build his own palace and a Temple for worship of the Lord. Up to that point, the tablets of the Law had been kept in the Ark of the Covenant. Now it was time for a permanent home for them and a center for worship and sacrificial offerings.

Solomon recognized his inexperience and the challenges ahead of him in governing a large group of people. So, he asked for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12)

This pleased the Lord, who had expected a request for the usual kinds of things people wanted – long life, riches, conquest of enemies and so forth. But Solomon had asked for an understanding heart. The Lord’s response was heartfelt: “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now…”

Solomon is known to this day as Solomon the Wise. His reputation for wisdom spread throughout the ancient world and people traveled long distances to meet with him. As long as his decisions were based on the wisdom that came from thinking and listening with his heart, they bore good fruit. Later in life, when he forgot some of his earlier experience with the Lord and good decision-making, things didn’t always go so well. But the reputation from his earlier years remains. Solomon the Wise.

St. Paul spoke of something similar in his letter to the Romans. (Rom 8: 28-30) “All things work for good for those who love God.” Paul used a term in his letter that is often misunderstood today. Predestined.

We tend to think the word predestined means that everything is set up firmly and unchangeably ahead of time. Nothing anyone can do will change it. Some will succeed. Some will fail. It’s like a sports activity in which the winner is determined before the match begins and the competitor who may be better will deliberately compete more poorly, to meet the predetermined setup. On the big picture, spiritual side of things, some will go to a heavenly reward and some will go to eternal damnation. This can lead to a belief that we can tell who is going to be rewarded in heaven by how monetarily successful they are here on earth! Entire cultural systems have been set up based on this premise. We do our best and if we are pleasing to God, we will prosper. If we aren’t pleasing, then nothing we can do will help and no matter how hard we are working, we will be eternally punished.

What a terrible way to go through life! Who would want a God who would treat people that way? And yet, if that’s all we’ve ever heard, that’s likely to underlie much of our understanding of life.

Fortunately for all of us, predestined in the sense used by Paul doesn’t mean the same as what we expect. Predestined in this context means that God has decided to call us and help us become like Christ, ready to be in a positive, loving relationship with God both now and into eternity. Paul assures us all that God has chosen us from all eternity to become like his Son, the one firstborn of the many humans who will join together as sisters and brothers in the family of God. This is something worth celebrating and allowing to be a foundation of our lives.

So, what is this family of God, the Kingdom of God to be like? Jesus spent a lot of time trying to explain what the kingdom is. (Mt 13:44-52) “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.” The kingdom of heaven is like “a pearl of great price.” Those who find the treasure or the pearl put it back where they found it in Jesus’ parables. Then they go and sell everything they have in order to buy the field (and the treasure) or the pearl. They don’t set up a spreadsheet and compare their assets and liabilities and determine whether this new asset will be more beneficial than sticking with their existing plans. No, they simply drop everything and choose the greater prize, the one they have marvelously come upon.

Jesus tells stories of wheat growing alongside weeds and fish, good and bad, swimming in the sea. Life is not set up with only good things happening to the good people and bad things happening to the bad people. There’s a share of good and bad for all. The trick is, how do we respond? And how do we respond to others whose situation may be more difficult than the one in which we find ourselves? Do we use our heads and try to protect what we already have at all cost? Or do we sometimes go out on a limb and saw madly behind us, hoping to help someone who is struggling or in need of a hand?

Wisdom is thinking with our hearts. As our hearts are soft, or softened, they become more pliable, more ready to love as our Lord has loved.

As we move through this week, let’s pray that areas of our hearts that are hardened will be softened, so that we can hear and think with the freedom and abundance of our God.

Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Read More

Posted by on Jul 9, 2023

Easy Yokes and Light Burdens

Easy Yokes and Light Burdens

What do you expect of a ruler? Someone strong and decisive? Someone confident and willing to make decisions? Or someone who asks questions and listens carefully to the answers that come even from the lowest social and economic tier of workers?

Zechariah speaks in prophetic form of the ruler who will come to Jerusalem. “Thus says the Lord …” lets all know that these are not the thoughts or dreams of the one who speaks. They are words received in prophecy, oracles that shed light on the thoughts and plans of the divine.

And what does the oracle foretell? “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!” Why should Zion shout for joy? Because a king is coming who will not be a warrior. A ruler who is just and humble, so humble, in fact, that he will ride a young donkey into town. Kings typically arrived with a great retinue of folks – trumpeters, chariots, archers, foot soldiers, and finally, the carriage in which the ruler rode. Servants and courtiers also traveled with the ruler, to make a luxurious camp or set up housekeeping in the home of a local noble. Rulers didn’t ride donkeys, especially not very young donkeys. They rode majestic horses or in fabulous chariots or carriages.

But this ruler foreseen by Zecharia is to come proclaiming peace to the nations. This one will rule over all the land, not just the land of Israel. All the ends of the earth. When Jesus chose to enter the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey, he was absolutely aware of this oracle and what it would mean to the people of his community. This was a claim to being the one who was to come, the king who would rule the entire world. The people who witnessed his arrival understood clearly what he was saying. So did the rulers of Jerusalem.

What kind of ruler would he be and who would recognize and accept him? Jesus had thought about who would be open to recognizing this long-awaited king. It would not be the wise and learned, the teachers and priests of the temple or the most educated people in each little town. It would be the ordinary folks, the “little ones” who must depend totally on God’s care and help to get by in their lives. These would recognize the Father’s presence in the Son’s love and teaching.

What kind of ruler? That’s the big question. Would this one who knows the Father personally throw his weight around and demand great works of daring and costly sacrifice to elevate his stature?

Jesus answers clearly. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” I’m not going to demand that you keep working so hard before I love you. I don’t expect you to give me rich gifts and build up my ego. “I will give you rest.” I am humble and will serve gently those who come to me. “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” I don’t ask for costly sacrifices, or long, unhappy, pressured hours of work. I will be there helping to make our time together pleasant and to share the carrying of life’s burdens.

As we move through this coming week, let us remember and rejoice with Daughter Zion that the Lord has come. The yoke of servitude has been replaced with a shared journey through life. No one is alone. The Lord is always with us, our partner in the yoke, helping us handle the challenges life throws our way and reminding us to reach out to each other in love and trust, so no one is left with an unbearable burden.

“My yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Readings for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Jun 25, 2023

We are Never Forgotten

We are Never Forgotten

Isolation is one of the most damaging factors that impacts our mental and physical health and well-being. It doesn’t need to be as extreme as solitary confinement in a prison or torture center. Isolation socially creates lasting scars. A child who is rejected and teased by peers grows up feeling unworthy of love and respect. An adult whose ideas are regularly mocked begins to think they are just foolish whims, not accurate perceptions of reality. An older person with no family or friends is more likely to die early than one surrounded by both. A people whose customs are different from those of the other people among whom they live can easily become hesitant to continue those customary activities. This is especially true for younger members of the community. Isolation sets in and fears of being forgotten.

As humans, we are social beings. We share this quality with other primates and many, many other types of creatures. We need each other for support, for development of necessary skills, for the basics of survival, and for physical and mental health. Those who are isolated do not survive as long.

In the recent past, we have all had a taste of isolation from family and friends when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down our freedom to venture out without worry into the world outside our homes. The difficulties of being with the same people all the time or of being alone all the time was somewhat mitigated by our access to social media and the internet. Zoom parties, meetings, school classes, and even wedding receptions filled some of the holes in our social lives. Our parish stepped up with Zoom gatherings in which we played actively as household teams in trivia contests and scavenger hunts. We’re still laughing here about the time my daughter-in-law grabbed me and put me in front of the camera as “something in the house older than you are!”  We won that point!

Prophets often find themselves in situations of isolation. Speaking truth to power does not typically go over well. Jeremiah, for example, didn’t want to be a prophet. He often complained to God about what a raw deal he had gotten in being called to prophesy. He tried hard not to speak, but the words burned within him until he simply had no choice but to let them out. And then, “I hear whisperings of many … all those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” (Jer 20:10-13) He was nearly killed for his telling of the truth he heard from the Lord about the coming conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Yet he remained faithful. “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.” He trusted that he was not forgotten and that he would experience vindication. The Lord “has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” The Lord is to be praised for supporting those who depend only on him. They will not be on their own to get by. They are not forgotten.

St. Paul reminded the people of Rome that human imperfection (aka sin) has been part of our experience from the very beginning. The story of the sin of Adam is a way of explaining both this imperfection and the death in all its forms that accompanies imperfection. Paul spoke as a teacher of the Law, from within the Jewish tradition, as he proclaimed the wonder of “the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ” whose willingness to die rather than deny the truth overcame death for all. When one human being chose not to obey God’s command, all who followed were also separated from God. But when one human being chose to obey and give himself for the truth, all who followed were freed of that separation from God, that death. It was the grace of God, given as a gift from Jesus, that overflows to all. (Rom 5:12-15) No one is forgotten or excluded. No isolation anymore!

Does this mean no one will be in danger anymore? Or that no one will feel alone? Or that everyone will welcome the prophet who comes speaking truth to power? Unfortunately, the answer must be “No.” However, when Jesus was sending out his disciples to witness to what they had seen in their time with him, he reassured them. “Fear no one.” Speak boldly of what you have heard whispered or in the dark. All is to be proclaimed to the world now. It may not be well-received, but don’t worry. Those who can kill the body can’t kill the soul. (Mt 10:26-33)

Jesus used a beautiful image to express the loving care of the Father. “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin! Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” For the poor, a sacrifice of small birds rather than of a larger animal allowed for compliance with the requirement to offer sacrifice at such times as the birth of a first son. The sparrows are of little monetary value, but even they are treasured by the Father.

In another homely image, Jesus reminded his hearers that the Father even knows how many hairs are on each person’s head. I’ll guess that most of us have no idea how many that might be, even as our hair gets sparser with age.

“So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows,” he says. Speak the truth you hear from me. Admit that you are my friend and follower of my teachings. I will support you and acknowledge you when you meet my Father.

Jesus ends these instructions with a rather disturbing image. “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” That would be pretty awful. However, it might be seen as a reminder that we all have a choice to be in union with God and others or to turn away. The Father never forces anyone to come for a hug of divine love. Neither does Jesus. It is always our choice to join with him or remain in isolation. When and if we turn back and acknowledge the Lord’s love, we will be welcomed. We won’t have been forgotten!

Today and this week, let’s pray that we will be open to see the Lord’s presence in our daily lives – through those we meet and the activities in which we are engaged. We are not alone. Even when we are by ourselves, the Lord is with us. May we always know the love of our family and friends. And may those who have been hurt or abused or otherwise traumatized and those who are suffering isolation and abuse right now, find a bit of healing and relief each day through the love and care of their friends.

Peace be with you. You are never alone or forgotten.

Readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Read More

Posted by on Jun 4, 2023

Mystery of Mystery – The Trinity

Mystery of Mystery – The Trinity

The first Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the greatest “unsolved mystery” of all, the Most Holy Trinity. God is One, Holy, Uncreated, Indivisible, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How this could be true has puzzled people for generations and likely will continue to puzzle those who are yet to be born. Yet this is the fundamental belief of our faith. God is creator of all. God became the human man, Jesus, who lived and died as a fully human man and was raised back to life by the Father. God comes as the Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide each of us. And this is just one God.

I don’t know if any of you who read this will have had this kind of experience, but my husband and I find ourselves talking about subjects like the Trinity from time to time. Most recently, I was washing dishes and he mentioned that he was thinking about what to include in his homily for this day. (He’s a deacon and preaches regularly in his parish.) Coincidentally, I had been thinking about the Trinity as well, wondering what to say in this week’s post. So we discussed the mystery of the Trinity over the dishes. I don’t know what he will share with folks at Mass, but here are my thoughts as developed since that brief conversation.

The readings this week don’t give us a lot of explanation, though the second letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 13:11-13) ends with a blessing that we often use at the beginning of Mass. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” This is a clear statement of the early understanding of God as more than simply creator, but no more explanation of how it can be is given. It simply is the way it is, as understood by Christians by around 57 A.D. Who could ask for more than the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit?

And yet, we are human. We continually ask why and how, from the time we are very, very young. (Parenthetically, one of my favorite songs is “Why Oh Why,” originally by Woodie Guthrie and modified and sung for children by Anne Murray. It’s worth a listen if you haven’t heard it. It concludes with the confession that the reason many questions can’t be answered is that “I don’t know the answer…”)

Part of the challenge, I think, is with the word we use – mystery. We’re used to thinking of a mystery as something to be solved. Classic examples are seen in the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, even the Perry Mason television shows of my childhood. Something has happened. Someone is dead or injured. “Who dunnit?”

However, the classic meaning of mystery in a religious sense is something that has been revealed and cannot be understood in human terms. The mystery of the Trinity is not something we can explain. We humans like order and logic. But that is not necessarily the ultimate reality. The ultimate reality is unbridled, unlimited love that overflows into creation, gives freedom to the created to love or not, and will do anything and everything to renew and sustain that bond of love. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16-18)

From the very beginning of creation, when God looked at all of creation and pronounced it good, God is there, loving and guiding and coaxing humans to live in love. When humans choose not to love, or they get frightened and start following other ways, God doesn’t turn away and refuse to give another chance. On Mount Sinai in the desert, after the people had created idols of gold and Moses had broken the stones on which the Law was originally inscribed by God, the Lord met again with Moses. (Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9) What name did the Lord give to express his identity when he and Moses met again? “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” This is the name, the power, of our God – mercy, kindness, graciousness, fidelity.

God is complex. God is beyond our ability to name or otherwise confine. And we are made in God’s image. So I am daughter, mother, grandmother, woman, anthropologist, bookkeeper, insurance professional, blogger, Scout leader, teacher, wife, artist, lover of science, music, art, gardening, camping, and so much more. If one human being can wear so many hats, so many identities, and still be simply one person, I guess it’s OK for God to be the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But enough logic and thinking deep thoughts for one day. Today is a day to rejoice in the mystery of God who is love and who comes to us in the ins and outs of our lives, always there, always hoping we’ll notice and enjoy.

Let’s just give thanks  and enjoy this great mystery!

Readings for the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on May 28, 2023

Like Wind and Fire – The Holy Spirit Comes

Like Wind and Fire – The Holy Spirit Comes

Images we often see of the Holy Spirit show a dove, wings outstretched and preparing to settle gently. The descriptions of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan tell us that the Spirit hovered over or rested on him like a dove. All very gentle and peaceful. Yet the coming of the Spirit upended his life completely. He left his life as a village carpenter and went from the Jordan into the desert to pray. He emerged from the desert as a teacher, healer, prophet, Messiah.

Fifty days after the Resurrection, the Spirit came again. (Acts 2:1-11) This time, it wasn’t a quiet, gently-settling-like-a-dove event, though how gently a dove settles as it lands is another question. There was a sound “like a strong driving wind” and “tongues of fire” that rested on each of Jesus’ followers who were still gathered together in Jerusalem, praying. The disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues” that were heard and understood by visitors from all over the world. And of what were they speaking in these tongues, these languages? “The mighty acts of God.”

It’s quite a contrast.

Winds, fire, earthquakes, floods, and other natural events that are destructive have consistently been interpreted by peoples around the world as having been caused by divine beings. We see again and again the myths/stories of gods sending fires, thunderbolts, mighty winds, and other terrifying forces when they are angry with each other or the people who worship them. This includes stories we see in the Bible as well. Our ancestors in faith also used stories to explain the powerful and mysterious movements of nature and of human experience. As we have grown in understanding of the forces of nature, the rules of physics, the workings of human psychology, and more, we have developed other ways of explaining what we experience. However, the power of nature when it is raging still brings us to silence.

Over the past few years, we have seen up close and personal the power of fire and the power of wind here on the Central Coast of California. When the fires consumed the forests on the hills and mountains of our region a few years ago, the skies were blackened all day and the sun shining through was the color of a blood orange. Blessedly, the fog returned before too many days and cleaned the air, but it was an enduring experience. Folks who don’t live beside the ocean don’t get such a blessing as fog when they are going through this kind of fire experience. It lasts a lot longer.

When the ocean stormed and the cliffs collapsed into the sea last winter, we saw the power of water. When the winds howled and trees fell over or went “surfing” down hillsides, we saw the power of wind and flood. The landscape was changed. We were also changed. Now when I hear an electric bus climbing up a hill during the night in a big city, I find myself waking and wondering if it’s the wind blowing again and if everyone is OK.

The coming of God into the world is a powerful thing. From the beginning of creation, when our creation story says a mighty wind swept over the waters before there was even light, God has acted with power. (Gn 1:1-3) One of the words used in the original language to describe the movement of the Spirit over the waters in creation conveys the image of a bird flapping its wings and beating its feet against the water to take off in flight or of a bird flying so close to the water that the water itself is stirred up. A word of God brings light to a world that waits in darkness for the divine breath/power to awaken all of creation.

The coming of the God, the Spirit, awakens change. Sometimes God’s presence is revealed quietly, as when Elijah encountered God on the mountainside, not in wind or fire but in a quiet breeze. (1Kgs 19:9-13) Sometimes it’s like a mighty wind and tongues of fire as at Pentecost. But whether through a quiet breeze or a mighty wind, God’s coming into our lives brings powerful change.

The disciples were empowered to tell of all they had seen after the Spirit came upon them. They spoke in tongues, they began to heal people, they preached fearlessly, and eventually, they took the message of God’s love and presence out into the ancient world. It has come to us through the ages.

Did it all end then? Did the Spirit never do anything more for the community? Would God be like a clock-maker who set all going and then simply sat back to watch it work? Not by a long shot.

God has continued to be present in the world. This is the time of the Holy Spirit, a time of action and witness. We continue to receive the Spirit’s gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel/Knowing right from wrong, Fortitude/Courage, Knowledge, Piety/Reverence, Fear/Awe of the wonder of God. These gifts are given to help us, to give us the power to speak of what we have seen and experienced of God’s love and care for us and our world.

We each receive specific callings as well. Some are to preach. Others are to teach. Some are to care for God’s little ones. Others are to lead in service. Many gifts, many works. All, as St. Paul reminds us, are part of the Body of Christ here today. (1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13) We all share of the same Spirit, breathed out long ago (Jn 20:19-23) and upon each member of the community even today.

We celebrate today. We look forward to seeing where the Spirit will take us in this coming year. A holy year is coming soon – 2025 will be here before we know it. The Synod process is continuing. Our leaders are listening to what members of the community have shared of their hopes and dreams for the church and its future direction in service. We continue to gather together at Eucharist to give thanks for all the gifts we have received and to be strengthened to continue in service to the world.

Power has come upon us. Quietly or dramatically, lives are changed and hope renewed.

“Come Holy Spirit, come!” Renew the face of the Earth!

Readings for the Feast of Pentecost

Read More

Posted by on May 21, 2023

Transition Times – Ascension

Transition Times – Ascension

A consistent rule in life and time is the reality that things change. Transitions invariably occur. People are born. People grow up. People die. Even mountains, valleys, continents, planets, and solar systems change over time.

As humans, we typically use words to describe the variety of stages in which each part of creation is found at any given moment. The development of awareness of self and other is a huge part of growth for infants. When the first smiles come, when the first smile at the baby in the mirror appears, when awareness of strangers pops up, when the first “Mama” or “Dada” is voiced – all are moments of joy for parents and family to witness. Each milestone is a transition on the way to full sharing in the human experience. Each of us has passed through these transitions and more. We rejoice in witnessing and celebrating them.

For Jesus and the disciples, transitions were also characteristic events in life. Jesus went a step farther in the transitions of his life. He rose from death to new life. And he came back to bring the news to his friends… Death is not the end of life. Death is a transition. The Son has returned to the Father. His sisters and brothers will share in this transition too, returning to the Father.

But did the story end there? The Savior has come, died, risen, and appears among us once in a while and that is the end of the story? No, not by a long shot. God had other plans.

Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection were just the beginning. Now it was time to share this Good News of reconciliation between humanity and Creator. Time to let even more people know how loved they are and how gifted they are to share in God’s life (a.k.a. grace). God had not yet finished the project. And God needed/wanted more folks to share in it.

This is what we celebrate with the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus has come, shared the Good News with his friends, died, and risen. He has met with them again and explained more of what has happened. They are beginning to get a sense of the wonder and reality of it. But they are still afraid to say much about it. Who would ever believe it? They know what happens to prophets.

Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus met his friends again on a mountain top – the traditional place of encounter with God. He told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Spirit who would come from the Father. They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (To be baptized means to be plunged into something and emerge transformed.) Through this baptism, they would receive power to become witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then branching out to Judea and Samaria and ultimately “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:1-11)

A transition. No longer silent, fearful witnesses. Now they are to become bold witnesses, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation who know God personally. The eyes of their hearts will be enlightened and hope based on being part of those called to new life will fill their lives. They will share what they have seen. (Eph 1:17-23)

But on this day, Jesus had been taken from their sight. Two men dressed in white appeared and reassured them that he would return in the same way one day. That’s all they knew.

They returned to Jerusalem as instructed, to wait for his return. Down through the centuries even to our days, Jesus has not yet returned in glory on the clouds in judgement over all the earth. (God’s time is very different than human time.)  Nevertheless, in Jerusalem those many years ago, something very important was about to happen. The Holy Spirit was coming. It was time to wait and pray. Whenever the Spirit comes upon humans, amazing things happen. But the disciples didn’t know that yet.

This week we wait with them. We pray for the coming of the Spirit in our lives and times as well.

Sometimes folks have been told that the Spirit doesn’t come upon people today in the same way. “Don’t expect anything special to happen in your life with God today.” But that is not actually true. The Spirit is still active. The Spirit still guides the Church, the People of God. The Spirit still is teaching us better ways to love and serve each other as faithful children of God, sisters and brothers of the Lord. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open. Transition times are here once more. Wondrous things are afoot!

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord – Cycle A

Image is from the Rabbula Gospels, a Syriac manuscript completed in 586 at Monastery of St. John of Zagba.

Read More

Posted by on May 14, 2023

Good News Travels Far

Good News Travels Far

We have become accustomed in our contemporary world to the fact that events great and small around the world are quickly reported in our news sources. A lot of what we hear is about unfortunate events, but we hear about some of the happy ones too. Coronations and elections are broadcast around the world for anyone to see. The aftermath of earthquakes, floods, wars, and shootings are also seen by millions. News travels far and fast.

In the months after Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, events also moved quickly. Large numbers of people were baptized and entered the community of Followers of the Way. They weren’t yet called Christians. That came later. The community’s life was centered in Jerusalem and included people who were native to Palestine and those who came from Greece and other areas. All were living as one big community. They worshipped in the Temple, and broke bread in their homes.

As the community grew, a few people were selected as deacons to attend to the mundane details of managing such a large and diverse community. The most famous of them was probably Stephen, who was the first to die as a martyr. A fierce persecution of the community began shortly afterwards and many folks moved out of Jerusalem.

One of the deacons, Philip, went to Samaria. He told everyone he met about Jesus and the Resurrection. He performed miracles as he went through the countryside, healing many and teaching. Many people asked for baptism and joined the community of believers. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard of Philip’s work and of the conversion of the people in Samaria, Peter and John went to join him. They prayed over the new believers and asked that the Holy Spirit be poured out over them too. They laid hands on them as they prayed, and the Spirit came upon them. (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17)

In this description of the conversion of the Samaritans, we see the historic roots of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Baptism is typically the entry point into the life of the Christian community. But there was and is more to Christian initiation. The Holy Spirit comes in a special way to Christians, bringing gifts that strengthen their faith and help them bear fruit as followers and companions of Jesus. When the apostles and their successors, our bishops, lay hands on the baptized and anoint them with Chrism (the holy oil), the Spirit flows into their lives in a special and deeply powerful way. Philip, the deacon, baptized. Peter and John, the apostles, confirmed the newly baptized. All shared in the breaking of the bread, a prayer that has characterized the Christian community from the very beginning. Together these three practices, Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, bring Christians into their new life and sustain their faith in their daily activities.

Jesus had promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphans when he returned to the Father. Rather, he would ask the Father to send another one, another Advocate, to remain with the community and its members forever. This Advocate would be the Spirit of truth, unrecognized by the world at large, but remaining always with believers; guiding and strengthening them in their journey of faith. (Jn 14:15-21)

It is the Spirit who continues to guide us today. The Spirit helps us live in hope, with gentleness and reverence, doing good things for others and caring for our world and those with whom we share it. The Spirit gives us strength to carry on when we face opposition or disbelief and helps us to bring about positive change in our world. In choosing the path of goodness, we live our witness to our life in Christ. (1 Pt 3:15-18) When that witness is challenged but remains faithful, powerful change is planted in soil that hungers for goodness. As time passes, the fruit of the Spirit, the holy breath of God, blossoms into the world.

Are we there yet? Has heaven come to Earth yet? No. Not yet. But is it coming? Yes. Slowly but surely, the Good News of our Lord travels into our worlds of home, work, and play.

We are still in Easter Season. Still learning with the disciples of the gifts that Jesus wants to share with us. In just a couple of weeks we will celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. Until then, let us rejoice in the wonder of the Resurrection and the promise of Jesus not to abandon us or run off to some distant Heaven and forget us.

Jesus is alive and well and present among us. Look around and see him. See the good works that spring from his life in us. Watch as good news touches the lost and those who are forgotten in our world. Celebrate the small victories. Hope for the longer-term ones and do what you can to move forward toward them.

Good News travels far. It has come to us over many centuries and thousands of miles. May we continue to pass it forward through our lives and words.

Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Feb 26, 2023

The Trickster in the Garden

The Trickster in the Garden

A common feature in stories told in culture after culture around the world is the presence of a trickster. The trickster is a character who is always up to some mischief. All is well in the world. People or animals are getting along well with each other. Things are happy and peaceful. Then the trickster appears (Coyote, Fox, Hare, Spider, Raven, Hermes, Loki, and many others) and begins whispering things into the ears of the characters in the story. These things may or may not be true. Often they are not strictly true, but they raise questions in the minds of those who hear them. Sometimes they might even be what the listener wishes were true, so they become easier to believe.

In our Judeo-Christian religious tradition, we also find a trickster. Two creation stories are found in the book of Genesis, the first collection of stories telling of the relationship between God and humans. The first tells the story in terms of seven days of God’s creative activity, which culminate in a day of rest, as God sees all of creation and pronounces it good. It’s a lovely story. Humans are created in the divine image. Males and females are equally created in God’s image and are placed in a position of responsibility to care for the rest of creation.

A lovely story, but somehow, it didn’t quite answer some fundamental questions. Why don’t people all get along? Why do bad things happen to people? Why is life hard?

In the second story of creation (Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7), God creates a human being from the clay of the earth. Then God creates a beautiful garden and animals and all the rest, to live in the garden. Finally, because the human is lonely, God takes a bone from his side and forms it into a companion for him. This companion is his equal, because she was formed from his rib. They live happily together in the garden, until the trickster arrives.

In this story, the trickster is a serpent, a cunning animal. The serpent begins whispering into the ear of the woman that God has forbidden them to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because they will become like God if they do. But what would be the matter with knowing the difference between good and evil? So the woman tastes the fruit and convinces the man, the Adam, to do so as well. And they begin to understand and experience the entire range of possibilities between the absolute good and its opposite. They begin to experience shame and fear. They make clothing for themselves and hide from God. They are separated from the absolute trust and comfort of their former relationship with each other and with God. They come to understand and experience separation from absolute love. It is a form of death, death of the former relationship.

Sadly, to protect them, God escorts them out of the garden and into the world that is no longer perfect. They cannot return to the childlike innocence of that garden any more than we who are older than about nine years of age can return to the innocence of our younger years as long as we are healthy people. But God does not abandon them. God gives them the gifts and tools they will need to grow in wisdom in their lives together.

Jesus too met a trickster. After his baptism in the Jordan River, he went into the desert to fast and pray. His baptismal experience had been a deep and transformative moment. The Holy Spirit of the Most High had settled on him and he had heard the Lord’s voice proclaim that he was the Lord’s beloved son. One doesn’t just go home to the carpenter shop after such an event.

In the desert, he was approached by a stranger, a trickster, a deceiver. ( Mt 4:1-11) This tempter suggested, “If you are the Son of God…”  Jesus could provide for his own comfort by turning stones into bread. Or Jesus could gain great fame by throwing himself down from the top of the temple and trusting that angels would catch him. The trickster quoted scripture to make his case. Each time, Jesus responded with another scriptural reference that overruled the one given by the opponent. Finally, the tempter offered Jesus power over all the world if he would just bow down and worship him. Jesus firmly rejected that option, sending the tempter away with a reminder that only the Lord is to be worshiped. At that the trickster left him and angels came to comfort and minister to Jesus. And thus began his public life.

Jesus didn’t fall for the lies of the trickster. And because he didn’t fall for the lies of the trickster, a new beginning came to the world and its people. Just as with the first humans, pain, suffering, anger, hatred, and all of the negative, unloving things came into human life, when Jesus turned away the lies of the trickster, a new beginning opened to all of us. We as humans could be reunited with our loving creator, the Lord, the Most High.

St. Paul (Rm 5:12-19) speaks of the actions of Adam and Eve as sin and notes that even before humans received the Law through Moses, people were sinning. But it’s important to note that the word he used and that we translate as sin means to take an arrow from a quiver, aim at a target, and miss the mark. Humans are prone to miss the target. Jesus didn’t miss it. And because he didn’t miss, the gift of life was returned to us all.

As we travel through Lent this year, let’s agree to keep our eyes and hearts open so that we notice when the trickster is trying to trip us up. Let us join Jesus in sending away any voices that coax us to make wrong choices and instead focus on seeing God’s presence in the lives of those around us. Let us become people of peace and joy who actively reach out in love as we go through our days. On the way to work. In the line at the grocery store. When a child interrupts our rest or relaxation. And in all the many ups and downs of our days.

We may still meet the Lord God in a garden: the garden of our daily lives.

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

 

Read More