Hometown Welcome!

Hometown-Nazareth-Sign-e1428950184677 Mark moves us back to Nazareth in today’s Gospel reading. And it’s far from a pleasant visit.

It would not be unusual should a hometown boy return and be asked by the locals to speak in the synagogue. That being the case, the reaction of the people surprises us, though at least initially it should not. After all, what would one expect of a carpenter or general construction worker?

They are taken aback by the power of this man’s words. And they define it as “wisdom” curiously, suggesting that they realize that Jesus speaks with some power. Moreover, they recognize that his words are not his own creation but result from wisdom “given” him. The question then becomes who–God or satan?

Apparently the people decide it is the latter. They insult him greatly by referring to him as “Mary’s son” rather than the proper appellation, Joseph’s. Various explanations ensue, but in the end, most agree; it was meant and received as a direct insult.

It was probably worse than that. People in the profession of carpenter, stonemason, and such were often required to travel in order to seek employment and make a viable living. This allowed that their families were left unattended and more importantly unprotected. Such workers can be “shamed” by their very occupations.

Thus Jesus goes about his usual business of teaching and healing. He finds the response to his actions lukewarm at best and dismissive at worst. He counters by insulting them first. He quotes a well-known phrase: “no prophet is ever welcome in his own country.”

It is apparent that he cannot heal under these conditions, and only a few healings occur, rather than the “mighty” deeds done elsewhere.

Herein lies a problem.

Jesus remarks at the lack of faith in his hometown and equates that with his powerlessness to do “mighty” deeds. Forever more, people who pray long and hard for help that never comes,  conclude that their faith is insufficient to invoke God’s mercy and assistance.

And this is surely not the point of the periscope, nor do we find it in the commentaries. It seems more directed toward the growing theme in Mark that Jesus is not understood, least of all by his own disciples. We the readers are the only ones “in on” the true nature of Jesus. Others misunderstand him, and thus fail to gain all that he has to offer. He can only “lay hands” on them, and offer some paltry healings.

Of course not understanding Jesus is the point and it leads inexorably to the cross.

Similarly I think, when our faith is tepid, trotted out once a week for public display in churches throughout the land, we are getting only the laying on of hands sort of infusion from our faith, instead of the full cleansing breath of renewal that faith truly offers us.

If we would work “mighty deeds” on behalf of our fellow humans, our faith must be real and solid, touchable, close as a caressing breeze in the garden. If God is in all, sustainer of all, the energy that infuses the universe at every moment, than only by immersing ourselves fully in that light of love can we too project the power given to us in every moment. We must seize it, and use it.

No doubt a good many of us will also be rejected by our hometowns–who is she but the daughter of that woman who worked in the factory? Who is he but that son of a mechanic? How can they saying these things? Who are they?

More importantly, the real point of the question is not who is the prophet, but why did God not favor me with the task? Why that neighbor and not me? I am surely better, brighter, a superior speaker. Yet, they speak with authority and nobody listens to me. Let me remind everyone that they came from nothing!

Can we not see ourselves and our families in all this?

What might we do if we believed in ourselves the way God does?

What might we do if we stopped believing in what they say about us?

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As we approach the end of the liturgical year, scripture leads us to the “end times”, those descriptions of life on earth in those times just before the return of the Lord. They are portrayed as fearful times indeed, both in Daniel and in Mark’s Gospel.

Plenty of folks pore over these texts in some attempt to glean predictions and time. There have been historically, and are today, and will be tomorrow those who think they have “cracked the code” and can predict with some certainty when that Day shall occur.

Surely they are encouraged in that, given that the scripture writers, at least some of them, also placed words of prediction in the mouths of their speakers. In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus seems to reassure his listens that “this generation shall not pass away” before the end times arrive. Paul is another who seemed most sure that Jesus would return to them before all of them had gone to sleep.

Of course, it should give us pause when the likes of Paul and even Jesus himself were either confused on this issue, or misunderstood. That there have been plenty of Apocalyptic preachers down through the ages who have all been wrong should tell us something. Plenty of such men and women today have spent decades promising that Jesus would return “any minute now” and interpreting the events of the day as those “wars and rumors of war”  that scripture defines as evidence that the world was about to end.

Since Jesus did admit, that in the end he had no idea of the exact day, perhaps we should stop worrying about it too.

The ending of the liturgical year, and its reference to these “end times” should cause us to reflect on our passing year. Although we tend to push this reflection time to Lent, perhaps it is better placed here. The year is ending, life in many forms is going to its wintry rest. Although the next weeks will traditionally be busy for most of us, we are preparing for the great slow down that usually happens as we tuck into the winter and it’s inevitable pull toward hearth and home.

Most of us, upon reflection, can point to a good deal in the past year that we are weary of and glad to be finished with. We have, no matter what our lives, lived through tiresome moments, days and weeks. Whether you were weary of the election cycle, or personal events such as moving, or renovating, or welcoming or saying goodbye to love ones,  or friends, a new job, a job lost, or perhaps the confounding state of the world with its wars and droughts, its financial insecurity, or literally millions of other things that vex us and try our patience, we are glad they are past to the extent that they are.

It is a good time to reflect on how we handled these events. We were forgiving? Were we loving in our approach to differences of opinion? Were we compassionate? Patient? Did we pray enough? Did we let go and let God enough? Did we smile enough? Laugh enough? Care enough? Were our priorities misplaced? Did we try hard enough, too hard or just right? Were were unafraid, terrified, certain, confused? Where was God in all of these life experiences? Did we ignore God, take God for granted, implore his help and decry his apparent abandonment of us?

As you can see, there are myriads of questions, and only you can answer them.

Each of us needs make these assessments so that we are better prepared to face the unknowns of next year.

In that we are helped, for in a couple of weeks we will begin the celebration of the birth of our Lord. We will be reminded of his tender love and mercy and that He is with us always. We are comforted as we go into the mystery of a new year that we are not alone. He holds tight to us and guides us if we so allow. He provides us with comfort and assurance that this to shall pass.

The birth of a baby will signify all this and more to a weary people, who has forgotten once more that they need not go it alone.

We would do so much better to examine these end times scriptures in this way, than in the silly and unproductive way of which day, and what events are true portents of His coming.

He will come. He has come. You have just forgotten in your busy-ness.

Amen.

 

A Tale of Two Women

I confess that I am puzzled by the inclusion of 1Kings 17: 10-16 along with Mk 12: 38-44. They seem to be very different stories with very different lessons.

As you recall, in Kings, Elijah stops a woman gathering sticks and asks for a drink of water. She stops her work and begins to comply when he asks for bread as well.

She tells him she has only a bit of flour and a small portion of oil left, just enough for one more meal for her son and herself. After this, she expects to die from starvation.

Elijah tells her to bring him the cake anyway and then feed herself and her son, for the Lord will not let the flour be gone nor the oil. Indeed, neither went empty for an entire year.

In Mark, we have the famous story of the widow who enters the temple and gives her last two coins to the treasury while the rich give great amounts. Jesus reminds that she has given of all she had while they give only of their excess.

Both deal with the end of things. The end of the flour and oil, and the end of one’s entire savings. Both women would appear destitute. And indeed we do learn somewhat different lessons.

From the widow in Kings we learn that when we are near the end of our ability to soldier on, relief will come. We some how or from some one, receive the strength to go on. Just at the moment when we feel we cannot endure one second more, we find that we can. All of us have had occasion to marvel at someone who manages to keep going when things seem hopeless.

During the last few years we have witnessed countless people who have lost jobs, fallen behind on their mortgages and literally live hand to mouth each and every day. How often do they lament that they have no idea how they can pay this bill or find enough to purchase food next week? Yet they do, and they manage albeit in great difficulty. Until one day, one day, the new job comes or the bank finally agrees to a refinance. The dark days are over.

The widow in Kings reminds us that we must never give up hope and our faith that better days will come, that we can endure this present pain, that God continues to love and uphold us and we will, with God’s help, find a way.

In Mark, we have a woman who is voiceless in her society. She is the prey of the rich scribes and Pharisees for she has been taught that her first obligation is not to her own well-being, but to the Temple. She may well have given up the money for food that day. She shows us in her simple piety what true giving is all about.

The rich are proud of their foundations and their philanthropy. Many of us are proud of our service on Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen. Similarly we might be proud of the commitments we make to our churches, contributing to the fund that builds the new kitchen, or the new landscaping. We too, feel good when we drop our dollar in the kettles outside the stores at Christmas time.

But we are throwing our excess into the Temple kettle. We are almost never giving away that which will cause us great suffering or loss.

And the lesson is not that we should. An argument could be made that the widow in Mark is to be lamented that she would risk her very life in service to the Temple. Her first duty was to at least live so that she might guide others to a greater understanding of charity and love for her fellow beings. Similarly we should not give to the point where we become an unnecessary burden on society ourselves.

What we should learn from this teaching is that we should not think ourselves esteemed for our small acts. They should be not things to crow about but things that we do as often as we are able. If we cannot give greatly in funds, and even if we can, we should be looking for ways to serve those least among us with our time, and our compassion.

The widow in Mark should shame us as to our own lack of thinking when we casually make our offerings. She should shame us into remembering that our offerings are not just monetary but may come in many forms. We are resourceful, as the widow in Kings reminds us. God will help us if we call upon Him. We will find a way.

Amen.

 

What Do You Want Me to Do?

 

Is your first reaction to this story, why isn’t the lesson: what can I do for you Lord? I mean, isn’t it presumptuous of Bartimaeus, who clearly recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, to boldly put forth his request? When Jesus so magnanimously says, “what do you want me to do?” shouldn’t our blind man, shrink in embarrassment and fall to his knees, begging forgiveness of his sins and asking how may I serve you?

Bartimaeus doesn’t do that clearly. I’m told by more learned scholars that the request for “mercy” in the Mediterranean value system is a request that one who OWES pay his debt. This casts Jesus in the role of the one who owes. It is suggested that this is explained in Bartimaeus’ recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and that he is  from the great line of Solomon and David, and thus as such a great one, Jesus should bestow favor upon one who has bestowed such an accolade upon Him.

In any case, when the healing is completed instantaneously, Bartimaeus becomes Jesus’ client, and follows him immediately and throughout the remainder of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.

Our first inclination is to approach the Lord with fear, a fear that we find utterly justified given his greatness and our sinfulness. And indeed there are many a preacher and pastor who has and does focus on fear. Fear is potent and an excellent controller of behavior. Every one of us recalls fearing the parental admonition that if we fail to do as ordered, some dire consequence will befall us. Want your dessert after dinner? Well you had better have picked up your room as you were told to!

But is Jesus or God to be feared? Does one actually fear a person who is good? No, we fear one who is inconsistent, unfair, and mean. We fear the parent who is unreliable, who reacts inappropriately either with too much punishment, or none, or punishment that is not tied to anything at all but a whim. God is not like this. God is good, and those who are good can be trusted to be fair. They can be trusted to do justice.

Bartimaeus sees Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God, goodness personified. He TRUSTS Jesus to do what is right, to be fair, consistent, and reliable. Bartimaeus has nothing but his faith. But that is all any of us have. Our wealth, our intellect, our homes and cars and things are nothing to Jesus. Our faith is what saves us and what gains Bartimaeus his sight.

It is that and nothing more. If we have true faith, then we may boldly ask as he did.

Now that doesn’t mean that all we ask for is or will be granted. That is truly not the point here. We are given that which we need. God always gives us exactly what we need to continue. What is not given us is either not needed or is within our own abilities.

Jesus’ very simple quiet, “what do you want me to do” is an acknowledgment of just how proper and right Bartimaeus’ request was. Jesus calls us to lay our needs upon him, not as some wonderful genie who magically grants our requests, but as people of faith who know whom to turn to in our difficult and chaotic lives.

Jesus is the cool drink to a parched soul. He refreshes us to continue the journey.

Let us never be afraid to ask, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Amen

 

 

Where Will You Sit?

As I listened to Mark 10: 35-45 this morning, a number of thoughts flooded my mind. I am reminded of the Republicans and their meme on the President’s approach to foreign policy:

“He leads from behind,” they charge, and they don’t mean it as a compliment.

Recently I reviewed a book here called Alone with a Jihadist, in which the author posited rather convincingly that the attempt by the evangelical religious right to secure political power in order to further the aims of their version of God’s will, was unbiblical and certainly anti-Jesus.

Jesus, certainly in the passage from Mark, and generally throughout the Gospels, presents a picture of leadership that is not directed at power and authority. Jesus seeks no power much to the chagrin occasionally of his followers. He seeks no authority over others, and certainly not over his enemies of the day.

He seeks to serve. And he teaches service.

To lead from behind is in a sense very Jesus-like. Such an idea of course would drive the religious right insane at the mere thought because they have decided to believe and push the idea that the President is the antithesis of a Godly man. Many argue that he is in the arms of Satan himself, and is in the process destroying all that is Godly about America.

But Jesus led from behind. What I mean by that is that Jesus taught that the essence of love of God was service to God’s children. And the essence of service is empowerment. It is helping others to help themselves by raising up their value and abilities to equality with those around them. When Jesus cures and forgives, he do so to return people to their rightful place as equals within their society. He empowers them to take their place in the world with their heads up once again.

He does not empower them in the sense that he gives them tools to rule over others. That is not what the Kingdom of God is about. He gives them the tools by his example, that they are to express to everyone they meet from that day forward. The Kingdom has nothing to do with power exerted OVER people, but rather it lifts people up to be fully functioning people of God.

Similarly, Aaron Taylor, when he suggests that it is not the place of a true Christian to seize political power for the purpose of bringing into existence some man-made government in their image of God, he is merely restating what Jesus announced to poor John and James when they asked Jesus to recognize their importance in the coming Kingdom. Jesus said, no, this is not what my Kingdom is about. You will suffer for my sake, but your reward is not honor and power over others, but the continuing opportunity to serve all those in need.

One can argue whether Jesus intended to set up a new church and if John and James and the rest of the disciples were being instructed on how that church was to be organized. I personally don’t believe, based on my examination of the literature regarding this issue, that Jesus had any such intention to set up a new church. He was and remained a Jew in the Jewish faith until his death. What he wished to do, was to bring Judaism back to its true focus, and that was the one he preached to everyone who would listen.

But he certainly was aware that those he left behind had a message to continue to share, and he made sure that his followers understood his teaching in all its revolutionary significance. You lead by serving.

Where will you sit?

 

What Must I Do?

I’ve always considered this story in Mark (10:17-30) about the rich young man one of the most electrifying of the bible. I’m sure it was in reading this passage that many a priest and religious vocation was born.

It is shocking–go and sell all you have and give it to the poor.

Who among us can do this?

And is this really what Jesus is asking us to do?

While it is surely a favorite story for “progressive” Christians, those who rail at the concentration of extreme wealth in the hands of the few in our society, I rather think that the lesson is not the literal reading one naturally assumes.

Rather, I think we must look to wiser heads, who perhaps understood this, and placed this reading within the framework of the reading in Wisdom and that of Hebrews.

In Wisdom (7:7-11) we learn that wisdom is the thing to be sought after. Not riches such as gold and silver or gems, not thrones, seats of power, not even health or beauty. Wisdom brings the true riches. And what is this wisdom?

In Hebrews we learn:

Indeed the word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.

Note that God is able to “discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. . . .[but] everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him.” This informs what Jesus is talking about in his discussion with the rich young man. Jesus isn’t making some grand statement that wealth is evil. He is seeing into the heart of the this seemingly pious young man, and discerning what is wounded within him that needs healing.

Jesus rightly concludes that the young man is consumed by his love for his possessions. This is what holds him from true wisdom which is the gift of God. Jesus points out what the young man must do, and this unfortunately he cannot. He is too tied to his things.

Jesus notes what is only obvious. Riches tend to consume us. We worry about getting more, keeping what we have, and what we should do with it. We worry about where to hide it, who might want to take it, and whether it’s enough. And of course, riches lead to issues of greed, jealousy, vainglory, pride, the seduction of power, and all manner of other bad characteristics which keep us from realizing truth.

It is for this reason that the story is cast in the manner it is. It is all too easy to discern the dangers of wealth. Yet, we should not conclude that it is not the wealth, but what we do with it that matters. All manner of millionaires have made this argument at least to themselves. Throwing thousands, if not tens of thousands at charity is no way to make one’s peace with the story. It is not the failure of the rich young man to give to the poor that is in question here, but rather his addiction to his wealth. If you give up a small pittance of your total wealth to charity all the while continuing to lie and cheat and covet all that wealth provides, you have not met the test that Jesus lays down.

And it is the not attention to wealth that is in question, but what it leads to. When our time is spent on such things as these, be it money, or fame, or retaining our beauty and youth, our attentions are misdirected and we are still wholly within ourselves. You might think that those who are spending every waking moment watching what they eat, cultivating pesticide free food, exercising and engaging in activities that are soul-satisfying is the answer. But this too blinds us to all but ourselves. And we all know plenty of stories of people who took the best of care of themselves yet succumbed to a disease and early death.

Wisdom tells us that we are a community of humans endowed with the spirit of God, each and every one valuable and precious. It is our wisdom that informs us that concentration of this fact and doing whatever we can to uphold and enrich this community of humanity is the life we are meant for. It is the life to which Jesus calls us.

It is the life of true riches.

Amen.

What Did Jesus Mean?

Well, you can imagine the fun I had today at Mass. Given the conservative bent of my parish, I was treated to a thinly veiled reminder of what “true marriage” amounts to rather than that “thing” which is nothing more than the whims of the day, to be replaced no doubt by something else tomorrow.

Following that I got the old “marriage is forever” and the appropriate readings of today which “prove” that. We ended with a reminder that nothing could be finer than a trip through natural family planning which is a-okay with God, while contraception leads to abortion and promiscuity.

Let me straighten out this mess if I can.

First it might be useful to understand the history going on here. (Mk 10: 2-16)

In Jewish law, in the time of Jesus, marriages were not entered into voluntarily by men and wome. They were arranged by a set of parents who put forth their child and as did the family of the other child. The resultant “marriage”  was a union of whole families, not the two actual children. These chosen “spouses” were considered to be God’s choice through the parents. Since these families ere now bound together, no PERSON had the right to separate the internal union.

But the people were unable to abide by this law, so through Moses, God allowed divorce. However it was only the man who had the right, and he had the right to divorce his wife for ANY reason whatsoever. This worked, as you might expect great hardship upon women who might be turned out for simply not being good-looking, or not  being a good cook, and very often for not being sufficiently fertile.

Jesus first rectifies the inequality of divorce by saying that men have no more right to summarily dismiss a spouse, and further than either spouse who initiates divorce and marries again is committing adultery. This was contrary to the social world of the time, where no woman could, by definition, shame another woman.   Jesus equalizes this and moreover, makes brings shame upon the man who “commits adultery” which  thereby brings shame to his entire male family.

Since this shaming would lead to feuding and often bloodshed, divorce must be avoided at all costs. They were simply too devastating to the families and the small communities involved.

Jesus did not speak to the issue of marriage when it breaks down or where divorce is desired by both parties.  Today,  people make their own choices, often at young ages and without due thought. Marriages don’t involve the larger families either in today’s world, where families are often spread out over many states and sometimes countries.

When we read these passages, who should be sure to remember that they are joined to the act of creation (in Genesis) whereby God made it clear that he wanted his creation to experience an openness and closeness that required a similarity of being. Adam could not relate in that intimate way with the creatures that God created for him to name and care for. A creature of similarity (woman) was created that Adam might share that sense of open-hearted intimacy that he could not enjoy with any of the other creatures.

Similarly, Jesus reminds us that Moses allowance of divorce was the result of a hardness of heart that the people evidenced. Jesus thus calls us to relationships that bring about that openness of heart envisioned by God’s creation.  Jesus speaks to the misuse of power rather than to the denial of divorce in our time.

In addition, I would argue that Genesis should not be read as some definition of marriage as between a man and a woman only but rather that it acknowledges that human relationships of mutual openness are what are desired by God.

It is especially painful as I stated last Sunday to see folks who avoid communion out of a belief that they are unworthy based on current Catholic teachings on these subjects. I am left with the wonderful words of John Kavanaugh S.J. who stated:

We Catholics have our liturgies, our communions, our Eucharists. Some of us attending are divorced and remarried and place it all before God, not knowing really whether we have put asunder what God had once joined in us. Some have annulments, a human judgment offered only after long analysis and painful remembrance. Some of us weep in the back, not approaching the altar of union. Some trust God and abstain. Some trust God and partake.

Few, thank God, judge. For no matter what our rightful relationship to our church, its laws and traditions, we all pray in an assembly of believers who are sinners; and, most assuredly, we all stand before our good and great God as children.

Amen

**I am deeply indebted to the remarks of Joyce Ann Zimmerman, John Kavanaugh S.J., and John J. Pilch in The Sunday Liturgy of St. Louis University. My remarks reflect my understanding of their thoughts and reflections.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

The answer to that question determines a lot doesn’t it?

We are all familiar with the words of Mark 8: 27, and we know the answer that Peter Simon gave, “You are the Christ.”

Yet, if we talk to people of faith, surely we will get many varied pictures of exactly who this Christ is.

To some he is the suffering atonement that gains our place in heaven.

To others he is the radical street politician who turns the world and its assumptions on its ear and presents us with a new way to see each other.

To some he is brother, best friend, constant companion, always available in our times of need to comfort us, reminding us of God’s eternal love.

He is no doubt all these things, and much more. Our answer to the question though dictates I would argue much about ourselves and what we are prepared to DO in His name.

I have been digesting something I read last week, well, ever since I read it. It went something like this:

“Do you really think that God will think better of those who are less welcoming than those who are too welcoming?”

In other words, some tell us we are too tolerant of things and people they consider acting or being in ways that they define as not Godly. So they reject them or their ideas. Not obviously of course; they use the Christian safety valve–“I hate the sin, NOT the sinner!”, they smartly remark. But of course, it looks the same, feels the same, and results in the same–rejection.

And you can’t say that we weren’t warned. When Peter finds Jesus’ teaching about suffering unacceptable to happen to God’s Son, Jesus explains:

” You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings think!”

So we know that God doesn’t think as we do. There are many examples of this of course through out the scriptures where God acts in ways that confound us and are so very different that what we would expect. Yet somehow, many of us seem to think that somehow we have “cracked the code” as it were. We feel competent to speak for God on issues not mentioned in the bible at all, or if they are, in ways that are so different to the situation of today as to be dangerous to apply.

Since we are woefully inadequate in much of our understanding of the culture of those times, we should be dubious in applying rules and “laws” designed to deal with very specific problems of the day. This has been proven again and again as it relates to Paul’s letters which are unarguably often addressed to A faith community, and one that is suffering specific problems, not all of which we are necessarily aware of. Paul’s statements must be taken with the proverbial “grain of salt” when they relate to human-created social relationships. After all, Paul seemed rather certain that most of his flock would live to see the returned Christ. What else might he have been in error about?

In any case, we seem to be on solid firm ground when we adhere to the actual teachings of Christ, and they the teachings,  universally point that God thinks about love first and foremost. What grows love, what spreads love, what enhances and purifies love? When we are unsure about how to respond to some new or  even old social arrangement or thinking, we should place it up against the standard of love.

Does it further it or deny it? Does it bring all peoples in closer communion or divide us?

Would it be a good thing for God to spread his love through only one vehicle, or would it be helpful to reach out to disparate peoples in disparate lands and cultures and use those things that were normative to their environment to grow his loving human family?

Who are you? Are you a follower of love?

Amen.

Just Live It

Nothing hits me harder frankly than James 1: 22

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding yourself.”

I suppose you can just as quickly come to the question of the age-old Protestant-Catholic dispute about justification by faith or by works.

Indeed, I used to read about that controversy a lot, and I studied the issue, and suddenly with perfect clarity, the answer seemed obvious to me. We are indeed justified by faith alone, but it is the outward manifestation of good works that announces to both ourselves and the world that there has indeed been an inner conversion. In other words the willingness and desire to do good works bespeaks that the conversion is real.

We, in this country, are mired in a war of religious doctrines and opinions. We are notified by the “Religious Right” that they have rightly understood God’s wishes and are determined to implement “for the good” of the world, whether the world agrees or not. They believe that they have the correct determination of scripture, and the correct extrapolation into today’s complicated and intricate fabric of society of what is “right”, what is “good” and more importantly, what is “evil”.

They preach sacredness of life. They preach sacredness of family. Somewhere in there, they conflate the bible with government and conclude that God desires us to have certain freedoms, though I am hard pressed to envision God as wanting us to have a right to have weaponry on our hip as we enter the supermarket.

They define those points to us as well. Life is actual biological conception. They tell us that life “starts” there. They tell us that under no circumstances can we interfere with that life. We must bring it to birth. Those who are “intellectually honest” if there is such a thing in the religious right, make no exceptions. Life for them is reduced to a zygote with “potentiality”.

If you ask them if they are willing to support medical care for pregnant women, prenatal vitamins, housing, clothing, food allowances, they are not so sure. If you ask them what steps they are willing to take to support that new life, such as day care, and food, enrichment of the environment, well, they are not so sure. If you ask them about quality schools for the disadvantaged child, health care, and cultural enrichment, they begin to wander away. If you ask them about health care, mental health care during adult life, senior health care, housing, food, and so forth, they are shutting you out and down the street. Life has been reduced for them to this moment in time when sperm meets egg.

If you ask them to define family, they surely will. They will tell you that it is a man and a woman and their natural offspring, or perhaps adopted children. Nothing else is family. Religious men and women who live in community are not “family” nor are gay men and women living in monogamous relationships, even when those relationships are decades long and evoke exacting the hoped for caring and support that they would desire in that “traditional” family unit.

They will preach family values while accepting that they themselves and their friends have been married multiple times, given birth out-of-wedlock, engaged in adultery. They will admit to being sinners, yet still accord themselves higher status for preaching a doctrine that others find odious and stifling of true human dignity and that they themselves have not practiced.

Jesus quoted Isaiah 29: 13

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Jesus points out that the literal “laws” as given by Moses, fall away in the face of God’s overreaching law of love and community. We are to love each other, care for each other. When we go beyond that to presuppose God’s desires in our modern world, declaring that some are bad and evil for not living up to our “moral laws” too often those moral laws are nothing more than human precepts, human traditions.

We need to stop being preachers and become livers of the faith we claim. We teach by example much more successfully than we do by word. It is the life well lived that is emulated by others, that others look up to as models for themselves. And there is nothing to admire in the person who lives one way, and dodges the issue by proclaiming himself a sinner, thereby absolving himself and giving him the right (so he thinks) to condemn others. If you knew the truth, you would live it. To proclaim it only is not to begin to know it.

Be doers of the Word.

Amen.

 

Challenges

Today’s initial reading is from Amos (7:12-15). It seems of little importance at first, but appearances are often deceiving. In fact, when read in conjunction with the gospel reading in Mark, it raises some extraordinary questions for us.

Amos is a shepherd, and we know from history that shepherds in this time and place were lowly and somewhat held at arm’s length by the surrounding communities. They lived their lives in isolation in the hills and were rough men. You can but imagine that he had little in the way of education or social grace.

Yet we learn that God has plans for Amos. At this time, the Hebrews have split into two countries, Judah to the South and Israel to the North. Judah encompasses Jerusalem, while the religious center of Israel is Bethel.

Bethel and it’s priests under the leadership of Jeraboam, have set up a new worship practice, one not authorized by Yahweh. It is here that Amos is sent from his home in Judah to warn Israel that she is straying from the right path.

As you might assume, this Amos is met with no little anger and dismissal:The high priest Amaziah shouts:

“Go away seer, taken yourself off to Judah, earn your living there, and there you can prophesy!”

One wonders if similar thoughts coursed through the minds of the Twelve when we learn that Jesus, after being rejected in his own home town, sends off his followers to preach the “good news”.

Will they be received in similar fashion? After all, Jesus instructs them to “take nothing” not even a second tunic. They are to beg housing among strangers in these towns, and to go meekly from those that dismiss them and have no interest in their message. Did they think they were going to face the same derision and hostility that faced Amos on his mission to Israel?

Paul tells us that God chose us in him, “before the foundation of the world.”

Yet we all, at one point or other feel ill-equipped to answer the call that God makes to us.

We feel that we are not educated enough, not old enough, too old, not healthy enough, not wealthy enough to sustain the difficulties, too busy, needed by others, not worthy, and on and on. We, like so many of the great prophets of history, have excuses upon excuses. Moses stuttered, or had difficulty speaking.

Surely we can all agree that we feel unworthy of God’s choosing us to speak truth. Who are we after all? Mere mortal humans. None of us, for the most part, would feel experienced enough, wise enough, versed enough, in scripture and theology to have the audacity to go out and attempt to convert others.

And indeed all those things are true. We are not worthy. Yet we miss the most important aspect.

It is not ourselves that speak. We are not constructing some message we have thought of.

We are not alone. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit which, if we pay close attention, will lead us straight.

This is the important point that Jesus was trying to make when he sent out the Twelve with virtually nothing to fall back upon. They were to depend solely on God. They were to learn that they needed nothing further.

Of course, this has led a good many well-meaning folks to do similar things in our modern world. They have taken to the streets and stood on corners preaching to largely deaf ears. We do well to consider there are few fields to glean wheat from in the streets of New York City!

But in any case, we are told that we each have a vocation, one blessed by God, if we accept the call. And we can rest assured that when we rightly discern that call, the Holy Spirit will assist us in fulfilling our calling. That is not to say that times will always be rosy and easy, they most certainly will not, but we can know that our continued attention to the mission will prove bountiful in the end.

The Twelve were able to do great things on their trek of preaching.

They believed.

Do you?

Amen.

Amos 7: 12-15
Eph 1: 3-14
Mk 6: 7-13

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