Where Fear Treads

palm_sunday02Have you ever noticed how much fear dominates the final scenes of Jesus’ life? And how the Lord responds to it Himself? It’s quite an object lesson.

We start with the processional into Jerusalem. The people come out in droves, lining the street as he passes, waving palms and placing cloaks across the crude roadway in honor of the great Rabbi that some perhaps have heard preach, and many others by word of mouth have heard of.

The welcome him to Jerusalem. Something exciting seems afoot here.

At the Passover Supper, Jesus tries to explain what is to come. He makes a special point of emphasizing to them how they should remember him.

He disappoints his disciples by telling them they shall not be great lords and masters in the coming kingdom but lowly servants, a thought that distresses and confuses them further. Peter assures the Lord that he is up to the task, he will willingly die for Jesus.

Judas, apparently so overwhelmed by how Jesus is not what he has suspected, fears that all has been for naught, and goes off to betray the very man he has followed for so long. His fear overcomes him, and he reckons his life worth a few pieces of silver. His fear has won.

When they come to arrest Jesus, one of his followers strikes out in anger and fear. He gains a rebuke from Jesus, and an instant healing of the damage done by the sword.

Peter in terror, of course denies the Lord, his fear overcoming him completely. All the other apostles hide in fear.

Arguably the enter proceedings before the Sanhedrin is an illustration of fear, fear of the unknown and fear that this man, this Jesus makes too much sense and is a danger to their authority, but also to their sense of how things should be. If you have lived your life in God a certain way, is it not petrifying to entertain the thought that you have judged things wrong all those years?

Perhaps because they are powerful men with authority, neither Pilate nor Herod seem fearful of Christ. They question him carefully, and find him without criminal intent or plan. Yet the Jewish council continues to demand his death, and having aroused the crowds, they take up the chant, “Crucify HIM.”

For now fear has entered the population in general, and those who formerly welcomed Jesus with palms and obeisance, have been converted into an unruly mob that is operating from fear. This one they welcomed has been arrested! His followers are in denial or hiding. Will they be arrested as well for seeming to welcome this now “so-called” Messiah? They are offered his release, but their fear condemns them to call for the release of Barabbas. Barabbas seems the safer of the two to them.  Call for the pardon of Jesus, and they too may find themselves in chains.

Jesus is paraded through the streets and people watch. They follow silently to Golgotha, where the crucifixion takes place. AND THE PEOPLE STOOD BY AND WATCHED.

And he died, and the curtain in the temple was rent, and the sun was eclipsed, and these same watchers now beat their breasts in lament. Fear now renewed.

Jesus throughout is the model of courage. He shows us how to behave in the face of terror, for certainly what lay before him as he entered Jerusalem was clear and frightful. He prayed to God that he be released from what lay ahead, but acknowledged that he was prepared to do as God wished, not as he might.

He stood in the face of unbelief and affront without blinking, without trembling, without fear. He answered calmly and then became silent for he knew that nothing he could say would change the outcome. It was his destiny and always had been. He bore his pain silently, and even on the cross cared more about others than himself.

Fear is the enemy. It always has been. Evil entered this world when the first human acted out of fear and denied help to his brother, but thought first of himself. “I have enough for me, but not for both of us” and he turned his hand against his brother and sent him away to death in order to save his own.

Fear has been our companion throughout human existence. Fear drives us to make decisions that appear right, but are usually not. It causes us to forsake exactly what we have claimed. Peter is the seminal example of what fear does to even the best of us. It is an object lesson.

No matter what the situation, we must turn away from fear and enter into the light that is Jesus. Bathed in that glowing presence, we can breathe freely, think clearly, and make the choice that God would always have us make–the choice that brings forth the kingdom in glory and love.

It is time to enter Jerusalem. It is time to face our fears. It is time to grasp the hand of our Lord, take a breath, and renew ourselves in the loving embrace of our God.

Amen.

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Go and Sin No More

28In the readings for today, Paul makes an amazing admission in his letter to the Philippians. For if you read closely, Paul tells us that though he has given up all for the gospel, he remains unsure of whether he will reach the “resurrection from the dead.”

If Paul, who gave up all–his wealthy, his privileged life, his status, all for Jesus, and the ignominious job of itinerant preacher–a job that incurred stoning, and being driven from cities, and ultimate arrest and martyrdom–then who can count on being “saved?”

And yet, there are those in Christendom who loudly proclaim “I have accepted Jesus!” and then demand, “are you saved?” Somehow accepting Jesus equals being saved.

Yet, Paul felt no such assurance about his own future.

I often talk to these folks who “have accepted Jesus.” There are nice enough people and  all, but I find they oft-times hold some pretty strange views. For instance, many of them when asked what church they attend, assure me that they read the bible “all the time” and don’t need to hear anyone “tell them about Jesus.” Jesus speaks to the truly righteous through his WORD, and no explanations of “men” are necessary.

When it’s pointed out that the Trinity at least in part, represents the community of believers, and that we are as God’s creatures, certainly best in community, they shrug as if they fail to see any significance in that. That the Gospels and much of Paul relates to “church” and incidents that arise in and around churchy things, seems to make no impression either.

But what is most troubling to me is that they maintain adherence to such things as the death penalty, and the denial of social programs run by the government to assist the poor among us. I get all kinds of answers as to why this is so, and it’s not really pertinent to the point here, but I would hazard a guess that most Christians don’t find positions like this to be within the parameters of “following” Jesus.

Yet, these same folks claim that they are saved, just by the mere confession of faith. And of course they do claim the faith. In fact they claim it as an absolute. There is no doubt of any kind about anything regarding Jesus or their faith. There are SURE. When it’s pointed out that perhaps the essence of faith is believing in the face of doubt, they look aghast. This usually commences another round of “are you saved”?

While amusing, I think it raises a very important question. Can we sit back self-satisfied by our mere confession of faith? It’s the old argument I suppose of work versus faith alone. My contention has always been works identify you as one who is living in faith. How can you not serve in some capacity those less fortunate if you really have embodied the principles Jesus taught? So works to me are essential.

Moreover, faith is a constant struggle, and not something one announces loudly to everyone as some proof. Proclaiming adherence to Jesus is no more that stating an intention to mold one’s life in the direction of discipleship.

Which leads me to my second insight of the day, from the Gospel of John. Jesus sends off the Pharisees who wish to put Jesus in a corner with their request that he tell them what to do with this “adulterous” woman. Jesus of course sends them scurrying with his statement, “let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

This points out a truth that is so clear to us–we are all in sin. We are all in the process of asking for forgiveness, and starting over again to live up to the model that Jesus sets for us. After the Pharisees have departed, Jesus assures the woman that he does not condemn her either. In fact, later, in talking again with the Pharisees, he tells them, “I judge no one.” While a whole series of reflections could revolve around just that statement alone, it’s what he says before that to the woman that drew me.

“Go forth and sin no more.”

Of course many use this to mean that Jesus judged the actions that brought her to him as sinful. But since there was no proof presented, that seems unlikely to be true here. Surely Jesus was unlikely to be teaching that a charge alone was sufficient. So what did he mean by his statement? The only conclusion I can come up with, is that Jesus was not referring to her alleged adultery at all, but was simply referring the sin that we all carry by virtue of being human.

Jesus is urging her, and us to step forth from our lives as we presently live them, and to step up the ladder to him. That ladder may be high and fraught with mis-steps, we may stumble, nearly fall, and scramble to aright ourselves and reach for the next rung. We are constantly in a state of trying to “sin no more. ”

That is the beauty of God. Jesus reminds the Pharisees after this incident, that they (and us) judge by human standards. He does not. By our standards he does not judge at all. The woman’s “adultery” are of no real concern. It is the state of her heart, and her desire to climb the ladder toward God that concerns him. That he wishes to encourage in her!

Being forgiven is all that we need to take a deep breath, aright ourselves, and reach again for the next rung of the ladder. We are forever in sin, yet free from sin, and in that brief moment in time, we reach to God.

Amen.

 

Are You Coming Home, I Mean Really Coming Home?

Prodigal_Son.jpg.540xThat’s me, over there in the background, to the right. I’m the “good” son, or daughter, as the case may be. Of course that’s only what I “like” to think of myself.  And I suspect that you probably think of yourself that way too if you really think about it.

We of course love the story of the prodigal son, and we nod wisely as we immediately “get” the lesson–God forgives us and we can always come home to our Father again, and again if need be. The saving of a soul is indeed something to rejoice about.

But we don’t usually think of ourselves as that sinner who squandered so much and came home penniless and humbled, begging to be treated as no better than  a workman on his father’s estate. We don’t see ourselves as being THAT mired in sin.

That is why, when we really think about it, we sympathize with the elder son who stayed home, followed the rules, and was a constant delight to his father. Yet no celebrations are begun for him, no praise comes his way. He feels as we would feel, unnoticed and unappreciated.

Think about it. There is no day when the Church celebrates all us “good” people. We are not honored by feasts and honors for our perfect attendance at mass, or our faithful pledge of money each week.

We think we are pretty darn nice don’t we? And nothing in this story seeks to dispel that notion either. Yet.

Yet the gospel parable of the prodigal son is meant for us. And it takes a lot of prodding and prying for most of us to realize that we have much to ask forgiveness for.

We have been given a most beautiful planet, one filled with riches beyond measure. Yet, we squander than gift every day, with our pollution and our waste. We rip up rain forests and destroy wetlands and coral reefs. And we protest: “I’m not doing that!” But we aren’t doing anything to stop it either.

We have been given the means to construct a world that is just and fair to everyone, one that can feed and house, clothe, educate, protect from disease, every human upon it. Yet we don’t, preferring to live by silly mantras that promote individual initiative which are not really true and result in millions being left out of a place at the table of life. And we protest, “I’m not doing that!” But we allow it to happen as we find ourselves too busy with carpools and basketball games.

We are squandering our birthright as human citizen upon planet Earth. We dirty her air and water and ruin her lands. We hunt her animals to extinction, or push them out of existence by our greed. We disturb the delicate balances that support a full and vibrant co-existence that results in a well-functioning world that supports all of its life.

We in democratic states are offered the means to create a government that is fair for all its citizens, yet we cannot find the time to actually confront those who have made a career of being government and no longer respond to our needs and wishes, but only those who pay them to maintain an unequal distribution of wealth and cater to the needs of the few but exceedingly wealthy.

Our sins put those of the prodigal son to shame. We refuse to internalize the words of Paul, “we implore you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.” We stand afar off and nod at the obvious sinner, secure in our pretense of goodness, when we are the sinners who should be weeping in the arms of our father, begging to be treated as the worst workman in the field.

Are we ready to come home? Are you? Our God awaits us with open arms. It is time we shouldered our responsibilities and do God’s bidding. For surely justice and fairness are the banner He would have us carry.

Are we ready to really come home?

Amen.

 

I Will Be There

IamMoses meeting God in the burning bush, asks, Who am I to tell them you are?

God replies, “I AM THAT I AM”. Another translation has it: “I AM HE WHO IS”

In Hebrew, the words are “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH” which translates as “I WILL BE THERE HOWSOEVER I WILL BE THERE”.

Nothing is more enigmatic I think than this phrase. According to the great Hebrew scholar Everett Fox, there is and probably will forever be much debate about this statement.

In Egyptian magic, to name a thing gives one the power to control it; thus Moses envisions the slaves of Egypt being able to summon this God and call upon his power. In some sense it always gives the holder a coercive ability, or at the least as Fox says, an ability to understand the true essence of the named one.

Surely that has been the goal of untold billions of believers down through the ages. We both want to grasp this God, and make him do our bidding. We don’t take kindly always to having our prayers ignored (or so we imagine).

Yet there is more. In Hebrew, the phrase is alliterative, making it in Fox’s words both important and mysterious. It both teases us with its symmetry and its illusive quality. Some suggest that the best understand is “he who causes things to be.”

Martin Buber, a great Jewish philosopher famous for his existential I-Thou, I-It dichotomy, took things in a different direction. He suggests that God is rendered as the “one who is there”, and this is the one Fox himself adopts. The verb is hayoh, being there, which coincides Fox argues with the later back and forth as Moses brings up reason after reason why he is not up to the task God directs him to. In all but one response, God answers with the hayoh verb, that he will “be there”.

It may well be as Fox points out, that God simply meant to be purposefully vague in order to show his lack of “magical”ness. It becomes the YHWH or Yehweh which we commonly understand today as the “He who creates” or “he who is”.

Buber’s argument for the “He who is there” is from a pastoral point of view, much the preferred. We long to not just recognize that our God is the Creator, but more than he is “there” for us. We seek and feel his presence in our daily lives, always available to guide and nudge us in the right direction, or conversely to raise the pangs of nagging conscience when we have strayed from the path.

We don’t of course know how Moses viewed it, but we know that he responded to the call and put all on the line to serve this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And his voice was, with the “God-who-is-there” strong enough to convince the people to follow him in the desert as they made their way slowly and arduously to the promised land.

We of course are in our own desert during this Lenten period, and we seek the promised land as well. Our way is sometimes slow, we have lost our way many a time. We have stumbled and fallen and feared that we did not have what it takes to finish the journey. But we are comforted by the knowledge that our God is not some far-off deity who demands our worship and remains aloof to our needs and desires.

Our God, is with us during all our struggles and long dark nights of the soul. He nourishes us and shares our burdens, and often, if we allow, takes them upon himself while we rest and refresh our spirits. His words are food for us, his love embraces us, holding us tight when we are afraid.

This is the God whom Moses brought to us. This is the God who endures, who ever was, ever is, ever will be. He is as close as your breath, and as dear as your closest human companion. She is as tender as a loving mother, as loving as them most proud father, and that cannot be changed. You have only to reach out your hand, and you will find the steady rock that you have so longed for.

God is there. He has said it. He will be there.

Amen.

** The Five Books of Moses (The Schocken Bible Vol 1), Translation, Commentary, Notes by Everett Fox. ( do yourself a great favor and get a copy of this–the poetry in this translation is simply breathtaking.)

Touching the Transcendent

TransfigurationToday we celebrate the second Sunday in Lent, and we read a familiar text, Luke’s version of the Transfiguration.

Jesus brings James and John to Mt. Tabor and there is transfigured before their eyes, his face being changed and his clothing as well. In addition, Moses and Elijah join him.

It is a difficult story for me, difficult because transcendent experiences are well within the realm of all of us human beings. Thus I am astounded at how obtuse the apostles remain through the balance of the gospels after this point.

In other words, was the event not earth shattering? After all, they see Jesus physically changed, they see dead men appearing with Jesus and he speaks to them, and then to top it all off, they hear what can only be the voice of God speaking to them!

What else do they need to know that they should from this moment forward do everything as the Master suggests and be sure that he is in fact the Lord?

Of course one may say the same of many other instances that they witnessed. Jesus brings the dead back to life, he walks on water, calms the seas, orders the nets to be lowered one more time. These are all transcendent moments in time, yet the apostles remain clueless again and again, or at least soon forget.

It is interesting to me that major events occur on mountains or near the sea. The Hebrew Scriptures tell a similar story. God gets people’s attention ofttimes on mountains as with Abraham or water as with Noah and Moses. Jesus, as I mentioned goes up on Mt. Tabor, and teaches from boats, walks on water, calms storms, and orders a grand catch of fish. Add in the events that occur in deserts, Jesus’ fasting, the wandering of the people for 40 years, and we can see that landscape plays a huge part in helping us to recognize the mysterious and other worldliness of faith.

It got me to thinking about how we are today, we humans.

Do we not still seek out these places?

And even the non-believer finds something magnificent happening to her spirit when confronted with vistas of mountains, or the expanse of desert or sea. We go to these places to “find ourselves”, to “unwind”, to “reconnect”, to get back to basics.” We have a hundred phrases for why we seek out such venues.

We know what happens when we visit or move to areas like this. We find peace and we find an ability to concentrate on the truly meaningful in life and not the superficial. There is nothing superficial about a mountain, ocean, or desert. They are raw and powerful. They sport unspeakable beauty but also much danger. We are awed. We are transformed.

We are  aware on some level that we are in the presence of something bigger than ourselves. We bow in our minds before such power. We acknowledge our limits as mere humans. We change within. We become something better than we were.

Now the non-believer may not put labels on these feelings of course, but I find it hard to see them as anything other than some innate, inborn recognition of our connectedness with the realms of the unseen. We can sense the majesty and holiness of such places because at least at the subconscious level we recognize them as the places where God and human meet.

No doubt Peter, James and John felt these same things and in a more powerful way, for most of us touch it in the beauty and power before us alone, and hear no voice from heaven placing an imprimatur upon one among us.

That is what I have never understood on a gut level. I’ve come to realize that it may have been more for literary device than actuality that these things occurred. Either the events themselves were not so amazing as depicted, or the apostles were not quite so lacking in true understanding. Probably it’s a little of both.

We may not all live near to mountains, deserts or oceans, yet the transcendent is always available to us. Think for a moment of the beauty of a newborn, the iridescence of the peacock, the perfection of the rose. Are not these moments in time when we stop in awe? When we catch our breaths, sigh in quiet joy, choke on words to describe, feel the moisture of sudden tears, we can be sure that we are in that moment where God and creature are meeting.

During this journey of Lent, we should look for these moments, for God is seeking us, and is all around us, offering us love and that connection we so crave. Stop, look and listen, and you will surely find it everywhere, much as did Peter, John and James did.

Let it transform you. Let it fill you. Let it become you.

Amen.

 

 

The Agony of the Scandal

Catholic bishop head in ground sexual abuse scandal denial child rape abuse hypocrisy vatican pope liars roman catholic churchLast Wednesday I was greeting some workmen come to do some decking work on our patio. Noticing the smudge of black soot upon my forehead, Ernest said, “You’re Catholic huh?”

I nodded, and mumbled something like, “Yes, unfortunately sometimes.”

I could barely believe that that came out. And I found myself mulling over the fact that what once was a proud declaration “YES! I’m Catholic!”, had become something to be mildly ashamed of.

I began to ponder upon this, as I have more than once. The Church that I had joined so happily was almost an embarrassment to me. Yet, I feel it is my Church, one that I must stick with, albeit with all it’s warts and self-inflicted wounds.

Of course what prompted the remark I made Wednesday, were more revelations about the priest abuse scandal in Los Angeles, and how then Cardinal Mahoney had not just remained mute as authorities sought to investigate criminal charges against priests in the archdiocese, he actually aided and abetted them avoiding justice, by assignments outside the state.

In a seeming never-ending series of such announcements, both in America and in Ireland and elsewhere, the Church never seems to get it. Some of the cover-ups have occurred as recently as three years ago. It is horrifying to regular Catholics, two-thirds of which in the US no longer attend mass on any reasonable basis.

I was watching UP with Chris Hayes this morning and the discussion was  about the scandals and the recent decision on the part of Pope Benedict to step down. Actually Benedict’s decision is a model for what should have been done by Monsignors, bishops and cardinals throughout the church when it was determined that they had abused their office in trying to hush the abuse of young children and keep it under wraps.

All those who participated should have resigned their office. ALL of them. Any priest, either by evidence or by confession, who was guilty of abusing children should have been dismissed from all duties as a priest immediately. A church that can pour literally millions of dollars into the Knights of Columbus for the purpose of funding NOM and preventing loving people from a legal union, can certainly have afforded to use millions to help all the victims of abusing priests.

That is where the anger lies.

But it goes deeper than that, I realized, as I listened to the panel discuss the issues.

Many priests and lay have decried the incessant and relentless interest that the Church maintains about sexual issues. Certainly if one looks at the Gospels, one finds few references by Jesus to the issue, yet the Church finds itself embroiled in what are sometimes referred to as “pelvic issues” constantly. At least they are the favorite issue of the media.

As you know, I am “living in sin” as far as the Church is concerned, because my husband has been previously divorced. Neither he nor his exes were Catholics. I am the only Catholic, yet our marriage is considered illegal and at age 62, they insist he should seek annulment. I can make the step to say that the Church has some right to make this declaration, however silly it all seems to be, but the real rub for me, and where I dig in my heels, is that it denies me the right to full communion with the Church.

I am denied Eucharist. The Church decides that my marriage makes me an unrepentant sinner, and unworthy of union with the Lord. There I disagree. To a Catholic, nothing is more sacred, more awe-inspiring than the Eucharist, where we, (including myself) believe that in some mysterious way, Jesus joins with us in union. To deny me this, is to deny me the very essence of the Church.

I of course ignore the rule. I freely receive communion (although of course I remain a visitor to my church rather than a member where prying questions might lead to uncovering my status). I feel deeply that it is Jesus who invites us to the table, not the Church. If Jesus determines that I am unworthy, then my Lord has the perfect ability to avoid this union and I  will partake of simple bread and wine. That I am willing to accept as possible. But the Church’s opinion is not of concern to me.

The Church speaks boldly its objection to sex without benefit of marriage, contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. These are all “pelvic” issues. Yet, when faced with its own sex-related crimes, which are not religious “crimes” but real and terrible crimes, it doesn’t correct the wrong to the best of its ability, rather it flagrantly avoids punishment and sets the worst possible example. Why should anyone listen to the Church’s pronouncements on how they should conduct their most intimate life when the Church still refuses to address its own failures and crimes?

We as laity cannot fathom why this was done. No good reason has been proffered as to why the Church did not do the obvious thing–dismiss each priest immediately and accompany the victims to the police and stand by them as they gave their evidence. There is no excuse. For God’s sake, our Lord stood by  truth even when they hung him on a tree! Where in the scriptures does the Vatican find excuse for its behavior in all this?

If the Church feared losing it’s power and authority, well it has accomplished that in its attempt to sweep it all under the rug. Jesus lost all authority and power from a human point of view when he went to Calvary. He lost his very life. Yet he gained everything, a loyal following that, has spread his Word worldwide, and engaged in incredible acts of charity and love for our fellow man.

This is being lost. All the good that the Church has done and counseled in the area of poverty, fair wages, immigration, universal health care, and justice issues throughout the world is being threatened by this ugly and awful response to a crisis that should never have been a crisis in the first place. Men who prey on children seek places to have easy access to them. The priesthood was always a logical place to expect it. Yet, we find ourselves here at  this place, with this scandal.

Why don’t we all leave? Because it is OUR Church, and we still remember what she has been and can be again–the place of refuge for the weary and downtrodden, the home for those rejected because of arbitrary conditions. It will once again return to being the shepherd she was meant to be. That is why we stay.

Amen.

The Most Perfect Disciple

When he was in Bethany reclining at table
in the house of Simon the leper,
a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil,
costly genuine spikenard.
She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.
There were some who were indignant.
“Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?
It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages
and the money given to the poor.”
They were infuriated with her.
Jesus said, “Let her alone.
Why do you make trouble for her?
She has done a good thing for me.
The poor you will always have with you,
and whenever you wish you can do good to them,
but you will not always have me.
She has done what she could.
She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.
Amen, I say to you,
wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world,
what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mk 14: 3-9

One cannot but be awed by such an act. Crossan and Borg have suggested that this unnamed woman was the “first Christian”. And she might well be, although I might suggest that the Samaritan woman at the well has a claim on that title as well.

But at least we can agree, that in Jesus’ mind, she exemplified what is best and perfect in discipleship. She gave all she had in offering to her Lord. She recognized, as none of the others did, that they were in the final days of the Master’s earthly life.

One of the things that is most ironic in this passage, is that Jesus proclaims that her actions will never be forgotten. And that turned out to be true, but alas no one remembered her name. Unless we conflate it with John 12: 1-11. In that case, we would realize that it is our wonderful “friend” Mary of Martha and Mary, longtime friends of Jesus, and brother to Lazarus.

Since Mark is by far the older of the two texts, it’s unlikely that John suddenly discovered the name of the woman. I have not investigated the history of the passages however, and so it might be possible.

In any case, we are confronted with the stark differences between the perfect disciple and those who are caught up in the technicalities.  The technocrats worry about how much money has been wasted that could have been spent on the poor. She worries about nothing, not her even her own livelihood. She simply honors Jesus, and presages the burial process to come.

We too, can get lost in the weeds. Much is done in the name of religion and faith that would no doubt offend and shock Jesus. People cut corners and tell untruths in the name of greater good that they have so defined. They tell themselves that this lie or that turning away from righteousness is okay, because we must keep our “eye on the prize.”

But Jesus surely did not teach us that.

Do good.

No matter what it takes.

No matter how much it is unnoticed.

No matter how much it is ridiculed.

Just do the right and good thing. At every juncture. Not for some “greater good.

I have heard many a police officer justify lying under oath because “given the protections afforded the criminal, it’s the only way to convict the guilty.” Guilty in their minds. Perhaps guilty in reality.

But what do we do when we offer to those we wish to “redeem”, lies and cut corners? We do not offer truth. We offer nothing more than a new way to scam the system. We are the authors of every televangelist who promises prosperity if only we will send in our “love” in the form of a check.

She, in her utter faith and simplicity offers nothing but the purity of her faith and love for her Redeemer. She offers no manipulation. She willingly accepts, without defense, the harsh words of her “betters” and the company men. She simply loves.

She is the true disciple. The one who has perfectly understood and answered the call.

Let us all reflect on Her.

Fallen Grains

Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Jn 12: 24

This was Jesus’ response to a request by several Greeks to “see him.”

Surely the rest of his response must have been just as puzzling.

Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour?’
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”

It must have been very mystifying to them. This demand that one lose one’s life for the love of life and to “preserve it”.

During this Lenten season we have journeyed in reflection of our lives, in our accomplishments and in our failures. We have done so knowing what the end will be. But that was not at all true of those who surrounded Jesus when he spoke those words.

How depressing it all must have sounded.

And we know that in truth most of his followers saw his death as the end. They walked away disheartened, thinking that the great odyssey they had become a part of was over. Many were deeply fearful, fearful that they would be next, rounded up and sent to a painful and humiliating death.

The words were, you see, just words.

We are human and weak. We need to SEE.

It was not until some members “saw” the risen Lord that the tide turned back, and the words gathered their deep meaning.

The grains of wheat must fall to the earth and “die” in order to rise again triumphant in LIFE.

We are those seemingly dead grains, dead in spirit and faith more often than not. And we must enter into that loamy soil, be watered, and benefit from the sunlight and warmth before we can sprout anew, renewed.

How more fallen are our brothers and sisters who are weakened by hunger and disease, from being abandoned and discarded by society as somehow “other”? How much harder the journey to break through the soil and reach for the warmth of God?

And is it not part of our growing and reaching to reach out? Can we not both rise with greater ease and grace if we do it hand in hand?

But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”

May we glorify God’s name by our growing in compassion,  empathy, and knowledge of truth. May we serve by following. May we be where the Son is. May we ALL be drawn until him and each other for the Glory of God.

Amen.

Ref: Jn 12: 20-33

Let There Be Light

We take light for granted. It is but a flick of the switch away.

But it was not the case for much of human history.

No, life was ruled for much of its existence by the natural movement from daylight to darkness.

Darkness was not evil, but it could be frightening. Darkness emboldened those carnivores that hunted by night, surprising their prey when it was too late to escape.

Fire was safety. It was warmth. And it was, believe it or not, a mechanism by which truth could be deciphered. How else the gauge the truth-telling of a speaker than to be able to see his face. How do his eyes react? Does his temple throb? Does his face twitch?

I don’t mean to make a great deal of this, but certainly we began to see light as having relationship to truth, a reality that is made clear to us in the Johannine passage for today: Jn 3:14-21.

that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

There can be no doubt as to the truth of this passage, yet, it is not universally the case is it? Those who still retain the now archaic means of producing photographs do so in a dark room. Light spoils the results. And surely the early Christians were often forced to the catacombs and other recesses to practice this new faith, done in the darkness away from the authorities who would arrest them.

Yet, the claim rings true. Jesus is the light.

Light is clean, bright, pure. It opens our vistas to broader seeing. It offers us the opportunity to move without groping and stumbling.

God is Light.

This Light, burns away, burnishes our very being.

And it is a gift freely given.

After all that Israel had done, God returns them to the land of Judah.

After all that Israel has done, indeed the world, God sends his Son.

All to remind us that we are Loved.

All to remind us that we are Forgiven.

All to remind us that we are called to the Light.

Called to be the Light.

All of us.

While no doubt most Christians would insist that John tells us most clearly that we can only share in God through believe and confession of the Son, I think it reads much more broadly.

Jesus is God among us. Jesus is Light. God is Light.

Believe in the Light, the utterly free offering of God to love you for no reason than that God created thee. Believe in that. Believe that all things may be proven false in the world, but never that.

The Love of God is for all, forever.

We need but say yes. We need but to step into the Light, to merge with the Light, to Live Light.

It is all one beautiful whole inclusive dance of light.

Come join in the dance of Grace.

 

Let Us Cleanse

It is ironic in a sense that we find John’s version of the cleansing of the temple as our Lenten reading today. For John, written last, perhaps in the very late part of the first century, or into the second, moves the time of this event in Jesus’ life.

Instead of immediately preceding his arrest and trial and crucifixion, John places the event at the very start of his ministry. Let there be no doubt what Jesus came to do, John announces!

And John brings an added element of violence to the whole affair, introducing the whip to the story.

Jesus enters the temple and witnesses what were the normal goings on. The money changers were hard at work exchanging coin of the realm (Roman) for coin that was “legal” in the temple–coin that did not bear the idolatrous figures of Caesar on them. Animals, for purchase as sacrifice wander around in some disarray.

Jesus, sees that in some measure, what passes as worship has been reduced to financial transactions. Bonhoeffer would call it “cheap grace.” One buys one’s sacrifice, and presents it to the priest. Religious obligations fulfilled. No wonder Jesus was disgusted.

What Jesus is pointed to is that this building, this temple is not God, it is not even where God need by worshipped. He points to himself as the true temple, and prophetically indicates that he will be “raised up in three days.”

Of course, most of those who witnessed this event did not understand. John does, and he reminds his listeners that upon his death, his disciples remembered the words and fully understood at last that Jesus was the embodiment of God.

We are told too that we are “temples” of God.

We understand this since God is Spirit, and resides within us.

But we are not Jesus. We merely emulate him as best we can.

It thus stands to reason that our temple is prone to reflect that one in Jerusalem.

It is prone to contain all manner of extraneous stuff, adherence to rituals and practices that have become meaningless in their routine. We are prone to bringing into our temple those thoughts and beliefs not worthy of such a place. We bring our angers and our fears, our jealousies and house them in this holy place.

We allow our temple to be polluted with too much food and drink, and we fail to care for it in other ways. We lack the strength of will or physical ability to do the work we are called to do to welcome in the Kingdom.

Lent is a time of cleansing. It is a time of evaluating, of fasting, and reflection. It is a time of change, reordering, and prioritizing.

Are you cleansing your temple?

Isn’t it about time you did?

Amen.

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