Oh How Can It Go So Wrong?

humilityWho among us has not felt the ugly cloak of self-righteousness upon our shoulders? For most of us, it is a humbling and heartbreaking experience, one that leaves us filled with shame and begging to be forgiven for forgetting who and what we are.

Not that I favor the constant not-really-so-humbling- practice of constantly confessing loudly our sinful nature. I find that rather self-righteous actually. I see no need to heap ashes upon my head on a regular basis. My failures and limitations are known to God and to me, and in the quiet of my own heart these things are pondered deeply and acted upon appropriately. All else is for show it seems to me.

Today’s liturgy focuses on the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. As we all know, the Pharisee was among his peers an object of piety, a stickler for the details of Jewish law, and always quick to call for perfect compliance in the strictest sense. The tax collector, was an outsider within his community, working for the Romans, taking his pay as a cut from the exorbitant tax bills of his fellow Jews. The more he got from them, the more he got. He was shunned and hated by all those who saw him coming.

The Pharisee enters the temple and begins reciting all his virtues–how he is superior to most of his fellow Jews, especially this lowly tax collector. He apparently thinks that God needs reminding and remind Him he does. On the other hand, the tax collector dares not even raise his eyes heavenward, so ashamed of his sinful nature is he. He begs for mercy.

No doubt the Pharisee, perhaps not with words, but in intent does not beg at all, but merely asks to be given his due, what he assumes is his (wealth, prestige, power) because he is who he is, a Pharisee.  The tax collector expects nothing, but he trusts that this God of love will consider his plea.

We are led to recall the first reading from Sirach:

The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay. (Sir 35: 12-14, 16-18)

Can we relate?

If there was ever a story to point out what Pharisees might appear like today it is this story:

A server at a popular Italian eatery in Kansas was shocked to find that customers had left behind an anti-gay message on their bill in lieu of a tip.

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent,” the customers had written. “That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Queers do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours.

The customers continued: “We hope you will see the tip your fag choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’S love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.”

No doubt any decent person finds this type of thing utterly shocking. One can easily see the self-righteous arrogance of the writer. So very sure they are right. So very sure they know the mind of God. So very sure they will be properly rewarded for their public chastisement of the young waiter. The slurs make it clear that there is no human love offered, but merely condemnation.

Good people of faith will of course be horrified and condemn this behavior for what it is, an utterly misguided reading of scripture, a failure to recognize the over-riding directive of love that we are all to obey first and foremost, and a blatant exhibition of raw bigotry.

Others will condemn the words used, but claim that the action was still appropriate because they too are sure they understand the bible correctly.

Some few others will remind us that it is our “job” to advise the sinful of their sins, since they may be somehow “unaware”. Christian duty is their cry.

People of no faith will nod their heads and once again point out that this is what “religion gets you”. If there is anything good in religions of any kind, it has long been lost to powerful interests within and their acceptance of “rules” that on their face are unfair, unjust, ugly, bigoted. No God who would create such a rule, they argue, is a God worth worshiping or following.

As I remain separated from my Church, I watch as it struggles with these issues. Pope Francis signals that at the very least, our rhetoric has been ugly and off-putting. It does no good to welcome with the one hand while the other is demanding that to be a member in good standing, one must cease and desist being who you are. There is no welcoming in this. There is only some sick pathetic attempt to portray something one is not.

One wonders how the patron at the restaurant learned such ugliness. Jesus certainly modeled no such behavior. The companies like Hobby Lobby who are suing the government in order not to be required to provide health insurance to their employees that includes coverage of birth control and other reproductive assistance is another example. Where does Jesus model this sort of “my way or the highway” approach. Did he not uphold the Samaritans on many occasions–a sect reviled by ordinary Jews.

If one believes that this is from God, then surely one must be horrifically wrong, for this is not love, this is not compassion, nor is it forgiveness, welcoming, community, support, loving kindness. There is nothing good here at all. There is only hatred, fear, and self-righteousness, that suggests that in finding you lesser I am somehow better.

And this cannot be so.

This cannot be God.

 

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This Is Love

MagdalenThe readings this week are amongst the richest of any we have I think. There are so many directions one can go.

In the first, from 2 Samuel, Nathan, who has, as prophet, anointed David as king,  finds his young king having committed great sin in the killing of Uriah in order to marry his wife Bathsheba. When David faces his sin, he laments, only to be told by Nathan, that his sin has already been forgiven by God.

In Galatians, Paul sets out what will become one of the major points of argument between Catholic and Protestant with the discussion of faith by works or by faith alone. Central to that discussion is the great love Jesus has for us, a love that is unwarranted given our sinful nature.

And then of course we have the great story in Luke of Mary, the sinful woman, who enters in upon a private dinner and becomes the subject of yet another lesson in love and forgiveness.

What is central to all, is that forgiveness is given first. Love follows.

As David comes to the awful realization of his sin, Nathan assures  him:

“The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die.”

Similarly, Paul says:

I live by faith in the Son of God
who has loved me and given himself up for me.

Yet, it reaches it nadir in the in Luke:

Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”

Debt was a serious issue in Jesus’ time. In fact the poor often lived under crushing debt. Often the end of that was the loss of the land and the peasant and his family had to find other means to secure a living. In fact we know that Jesus’ father was a carpenter or stone worker as was Jesus, so in fact this may have happened to his family. In any case, it was a situation which would have been well understood among those that listened to Jesus’ parable.

To forgive debt, then, was a very great deal. It could and often would mean the very survival of a person or family. It was no small thing. No doubt such a person, forgiven of a significant debt would feel the deepest of gratitude and love to the one who had saved them from such a life of hardship and uncertainty.

It is this context through which we view Mary’s actions.

Scholars widely believe that this Mary was the great Magdalen, the one whom many  believe Jesus ultimately entrusted much of his teaching to, and who in a very real sense is a true apostle, one but barely acknowledged by the Church.

Mary bursts into the room, uninvited and proceeds to do some rather amazing things. First, she has entered a private dinner, not to serve, but to disrupt, something women were not to do in that culture. Further, she touches a man not her husband in the most intimate of ways, bathing his feet with her tears and kisses. She wipes them with her hair, obviously let down, another taboo in her culture. Finally she anoints him with a rich oil, pouring it over his head. In this way she acts as both prophet and priestess in anointing the king.

Simon, the Pharisee is shocked and taken aback. No doubt he is ready to call the guard and have her thrown violently into the street. Yet, of course this doesn’t happened since Jesus now uses the event as a teaching moment.

Jesus juxtaposes Mary’s treatment of him to that of Simon himself. For in failing to give him the appropriate welcome into his house, Simon has indeed shown his disrespect for Jesus and what he believes Jesus stands for. In fact Simon questions Jesus being a prophet, since he believes he was unaware of the sinful nature of the woman before him.

So Jesus explains that Mary has done for him what Simon was unwilling to do, give him the hospitality that Simon neglected.

And we learn something very important as well. And that something is that the love flows from the forgiveness already given.

This is a lesson that we miss, and translation is everything here. The NRSV translates the passage thusly:

So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.

Yet, the American Bible translates thusly:

Her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love.

The difference is so important. For in the second, we see that it falls in line with the words given in both 2 Samuel and in Galatians.

Mary does not love Jesus in order for her sins to be forgiven. Mary loves Jesus because her sins were forgiven.

That is the great lesson to us. We do not love God in order to go to heaven, or in order to be lovable by God, we love God because God has loved us despite what most no human would do–our grievous sins for which we have as yet not been even repentant! To say nothing of making reparations for. This is LOVE! This is what makes Jesus so worthy of our deepest love and obedience. For he has loved us in spite of ourselves, when nobody would or perhaps should.

This is the lesson too of 2 Samuel, for Nathan assures David who has just realized his great sin, that it has already been forgiven. Of course Paul says essentially the same thing. Jesus died once and for all for all of our sins, present and future, and to all those born thereafter. We are loved in spite of what we have done or will do.

Such love is beyond the pale for most humans. It is “unconditioned”.

Imagine the likes of Mary, a woman who apparently was alone, perhaps shunned by all, suddenly aware that she is loved beyond measure simply because she exists! Is it any wonder that her tears “bathed” Jesus’ feet?

May we all answer the love of Christ with such an acclamation and proclamation as she.

Amen.

mary-washing-jesus-feetI am greatly indebted to the following for some ideas and facts regarding this reflection:

Tender Protection, by John Foley, S.J.

Move Over Pope Francis and Bring on FrancEs! by Mike Rivage-Seul

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.

 

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.

God is When Things Are at Their Worst

preparingYou may be starting to panic about now.

The big day looms ever closer. There is cleaning and cooking and buying and wrapping, decorating, and sending, and visiting. There are calls to be made and last-minute runs to stores to contend with. There are parking lots filled to bursting and long lines at check-out lanes. Children are rambunctious and tempers are getting shorter.

We are at that point in preparation where things can’t get much worse. There is still so much to do, and time is running out.

Thankfully, we are reminded at mass that the real preparation is going on confidently, inexorably, and patiently. All will be as it should be.

Our readings today remind us that although this is a time when life seems too hectic and overwhelming, there is good news, and that news sustains us in times of difficulty.

Baruch writes from exile after Babylon has carted off most of the Jerusalem population to slavery. There are only the left-overs of society remaining in the city. Those that nobody wants or can use. Does he speak of sorrow and woe? No.  Rather he sends greeting to Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.

Rejoice? Be joyful? Dress up in your finest?

Baruch says yes, for God will return Jerusalem to her greatness and her glory. A small voice, that of Baruch, but one that calls us to remember, and trust in God.

Similarly, Paul brings joyous tidings to the Philippians, a small band of Jesus followers who are under assault themselves. And Paul? Paul writes these beautiful uplifting words while imprisoned himself. He thinks of them in joy and with confidence.

He exhorts them to keep the faith:

And this is

my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.
Paul urges them to not waiver from their path.

Of course, we are all familiar with the passage from Luke wherein John the Baptist goes throughout the land proclaiming good news of God and calling all to repentance and to be ready for the Lord. He does this after a litany of the names of those that later on will prove to be the great enemies of Jesus who will actively do everything possible to thwart his message.

as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

In all these examples, times were ominous. Threats and disasters abounded or were on the horizon. People had every reason to give up, give in, and succumb to the times. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, some might say. Yet, a voice reminds us that all is not lost, that there is hope for a better world. If only we have faith. If only we turn toward God and keep our focus.

Today, our world is no less threatening. Because it is happening to us, it seems worse than at any time in history. This is almost assuredly not so, but it is happening to us, so it feels foreboding and dangerous. We are all faced with our individual challenges as well, some more deadly than others of course, some more painful, more frightening, more life-changing.

But through it all, a voice calls to us to. The voice of the Gospel. The voice of Jesus.

In Christ we find the sanity, the peace, the patience and the comfort that we so desperately need during times like this.

Turn from your preoccupations with things that often you can but barely effect. Listen to the voice of the Lord. Repent and seek the straight pathway to your HOME.

That home is Christ.

Amen.

 

How To Screw Up the Meaning

 

 

Today’s readings are pretty darn straight forward. In Numbers (11:25-29) Moses is informed that a couple of elders are prophesying in his name although they were not in the tent with the other elders who were commissioned by God.

In Mark,  (9: 38-43) Jesus is similarly informed that someone is casting out demons in his name.

In both cases, the expectation is that this unauthorized behavior should be stopped immediately. In neither case is this done. Instead, both tell their followers that if they are doing the right thing, let them continue.

This should teach us that everyone doesn’t have to be “like us” to do good in the world. We should honor the good period. This should give us renewed hope and dedication to trying, where ever we can, points of agreement with those we are at odds with, and cooperating on at least those issues where we find  that agreement.

And indeed, our priest this morning made the first point. God teaches us that “not only Catholics” but Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and even non-believers can do good things. Gosh I never would have guessed!

He then went on to run off the tracks. “Please don’t get the wrong idea here. Jesus was no relativist. He wasn’t saying all faiths are equal like so many say today.”

He then went off on a tangent based on the rest of Mark’s gospel reading:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Then, he (the priest) explained that such sin as depicted here must be serious sin. He decided it must have to do with  alcohol and drug abuse, pornography, adultery, and things such as this. He then went on to explain that we must be always on guard against such “personal” sin, and protect our eternal souls against these persistent pernicious sins.

Alas, the priest forgot entirely the other reading: James.

James clearly speaks to the wealthy of his time:

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.

Since Jesus in his remarks in Mark makes no statement of what things should cause us to “pluck out our eye”, then perhaps there is a reason that James discourse is part of the liturgy to be read with Mark’s gospel.

James makes no bones about it. The rich, who live in splendor while withholding wages from those who work them are the ones who will be devoured in the fires that Jesus refers to as Gehenna.

This is not a new concept, and it is one that Jesus repeatedly referred to. His “preferential option” for the poor, God’s preferential option, causes that to be the great sin we must guard against. Jesus warns–don’t cause these “little ones” to sin (children were the least in the world and are synonymous with the poor). One causes them to sin by setting as an example a life of wealth and privilege all the while ignoring the plight of those less fortunate. It is teaching this capitalistic winner-take-all, survival of the fittest, to the victor belong the spoils, kind of mentality that places one in dire circumstances at judgment day.

These readings are about cooperation, love, caring, compassion, brotherhood and sisterhood. They are uplifting and guiding. They are not some self-centered directive to beware of serious sin for our own good, although our own good may well be in the balance. They help us to look outward rather than inward.

Amen.

 

 

Love or Sin

 

 

Since I insist on talking about politics and religion all the time, I get a fair amount of blow back. From the religious Right, it generally takes the form of reminding me that “real” Christians  like themselves are warned in scripture “about people like me.”

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1Jn 4: 1-6)

I often laugh at this, for I of course would often be of a mind to recite the same or similar verses as to them if I were of such a mind.

For truly I am of the opinion that many on the right say a good deal that is false and not “of the spirit.”

As I listened to James 2: 1-5 this morning, I heard reference to this, though I admit it is not what people usually think of when they read or hear it.

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality
as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please, ”
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?

There are plenty of teachings in scripture which deal with the dangers of wealth and more so the dangers of paying too much homage to it. We are, contrary to the Republican Party’s claims against the Democrats, not a people who begrudge the wealthy their riches, we are more likely to be star-struck by those who live “above” us.

But as I said, I saw something different here. The one with golden rings and fine clothing, I would suggest, may be the one with the flowery language who encourages us to believe the snake oil he or she is selling. Such a person may tell us things that make us feel good, and I would argue, often have ready-made excuses for why your life isn’t what you wish it were.

Beware, my beloved of those who remove your own burden of responsibility by attempting to shift it to someone one (ones) else, whom you can blame. And beware all the more when those “others” are declared to be wanting in faith and God’s grace.

I would argue that those speakers are most assuredly the false prophets.

How often has it been that the poorest, most ill-educated often has the greatest wisdom? How often do we hear words that thrill us to the heart from people of very different faiths. Who does not nod in agreement at the words that come from say a Thich Nhat Hanh? Or a Dalai Lama?

Jesus, you remember was the poorest of itinerant preachers. He spoke about things that were definitely not kosher if you will, when it comes to the standard Jewish teaching.  That is why so many who were learned and “cultured” dismissed him as some radical troublemaker. He didn’t preach against the Pharisees so much as he admonished them to their faces when they attacked him with their sly questions. To his sheep, he told them the simple lessons of God’s love and how they could enter the kingdom.

Throughout the scriptures we are advised to avoid those who hearts are not on God, but who claim they speak for God.

The trouble is, it is very hard for any of us mere mortals to know who is and who is not teaching falsely. Some think it easy, but that is only because they are blinded by their own arrogance. You see, they think that there is but one interpretation of scripture, and they surely have it. Thus when someone sees it different–bingo you have identified a false teacher.

Of course, most of us can see the fallacy in such reasoning and such judgment. Most of us know that the ineffable is well, to a great extent unknowable by us. We do our best to understand, but as Augustine often said, most of what we decide is true about God is probably not.

I know of only one guiding principle, and it is I admit based nearly entirely upon my own theological beliefs. I believe that God is love, pure and simple and that all that God is is a constant reaffirmation of that fact and an attempt to bring it forth in the world through us, his creation. Anything that separates any of us from God, is in my mind, not from God. Any who preach this, who preach that some are “others” and must conform to their way of thinking in order to be saved, is probably speaking from ego rather than grace.

Is the message Love or Sin? Sin, it seems to me, is in the act of keeping God’s children from God and from each other.

But that is my opinion.

Reach for love my friend and God be with you.

Amen

 

Entering Into Ourselves

This sixth week in Ordinary Time brings us to leprosy, miracles and encounters with sin.

We today have little exposure to the disease known as Hansen’s Disease or leprosy. Indeed, there is some reason to believe that the ancients had less contact than we would be led to believe by the stories.

Given the limited medical knowledge of the Hebrews, leprosy was attached to any physical blemish, any disfigurement. Thus it was a mark upon the body, or upon anything for that matter, that was indelible, not going away.

 In Leviticus, Moses is advised by God how to deal with lepers, how they are to be excluded, kept apart and the leper must identify himself as such to all who come near.

As we know, in those times, physical illness or disease was associated with sin. This whole concept is played out in Job, where his friends are convinced that Job must indeed be sinful in order to be given such suffering.

We can look upon the reading in Leviticus and we can quickly see that analogies can be drawn to our lives today. We of course no longer avoid and look upon as sinful, those who suffer physical disease of any sort. At least we proclaim that we do not. It is of course still a question as to whether we look away and avoid those who have AIDS, or those who are homeless and alcoholic or drug addicted. Perhaps, I spoke too soon.

And we of course also avoid drawing a parallel between disease and sin. We understand disease as an ailment of the body, having nothing to do with the heart or the relative goodness or lack of it, of the victim. Or do we?

Jesus’ answer is unequivocal  as he heals without a single question, the leper who begs his help. There is not examination of his thoughts, beliefs or life before Jesus undertakes the cure. He simply reaches out and effects the cure.

And what of that? By touching the leper, he has committed the act of making himself “unclean” as well. He has become as the leper, and in doing so he demonstrates that there is no sin and no shame in the condition. He separates physical disfigurement from the habits of the soul.

And in doing so, Jesus forces us to look at ourselves, for we must now face the real fact that sin is not always apparent. It is not something visible we can see, it can and is hidden. And that means that we too may be harboring secret sin; sin we have not looked for, let alone confronted and dealt with.

The fallacy that sin is something easy to locate and define, confronts us, and we are humbled.

We are further humbled by Jesus’ willingness to take that public abhorrence upon himself and show it for what it is.

We, as lepers ourselves, unknowingly separate ourselves from God. Yet we too have only to reach out and ask for healing, for that transforming touch that will restore us to health in our souls. As the leper did, so can we do. But first we must accept our dis-ease, and seek renewal.

In a few weeks, we will begin that annual time of seeking to uncover our infirmities and to seek forgiveness and restoration. It is not too soon to begin the journey.

Amen.

Truth: Seek and Find

Ahh if only we could truly obey.

As those of you who read my blog AFeatherAdrift know, I’ve been reading Ayn Rand’s now infamous novel, Atlas Shrugged. It is a silly offering in most respects, wildly exaggerating the morality and virtues of the “creators” whom she identifies as the industrialists. (Ayn was writing in the 1950’s and was a refugee from Communist Russia)

In her book, progressives are painted as lazy wonderlust crazed pie-in-the-sky noodles, who in the name of equality, destroy the world by hemming in at every turn the producers of the world. While Rand herself gives way utterly when it comes to actual truth, in her “perfect” capitalist characters, she proclaims that truth above all must guide every decision. We must, she argues be ruthless in accepting our true motives, our true desires, and the world as it really is.

In this Jesus would agree.

And yet, among believers and non-believers alike, we find the world peopled increasingly by those who choose to see the world as they wish, and to act accordingly. Facts and truth are “relative” to what one wants them to be.

Some people torture the scriptures to “prove” what they already, for reasons understood or not, desire to be true. They refuse to see or accept even the simplest explanations of cosmological, biological, or environmental science. It’s ever so much nicer to find all one’s answers spelled out easily in a book.

Yet, Jesus spoke in parables, hardly a clear-cut method of conveying the truth. He recognized that we simply would never really get it unless we worked at it. It could not be handed to us on a platter. If it were, we would value it all the less. Faith, and the truth it can lead to, only come by serious effort.

It is necessary to peel the onion. Layer after layer of lie and masquerade must be systematically eliminated to reach the center. It is irritating and takes time. It can be extraordinarily painful. No one likes to see their deepest fears exposed, least of all to themselves. It is these fears that cause us to translate our beliefs into hatreds and prejudices. It is these that we try so hard to deny to ourselves and others. It is these that we seek “proofs” for that will allow us to feel justified.

These proofs almost never are factual nor truth. They are convenient truths, secured from those who trade in giving us what we want for a price, or are fellow travelers, suffering from the same fears. We learn who to listen to, to hear what we want to hear.

Truth is not dropped upon our doorstep. It must be sought. It must be cleaned of all the detritus that is layered on attempting to make it meet the needs of disparate ologies.

We must be ruthless, painful as it is.

God does not offer us a bunch of platitudes to live by, much as we would like that to be true. The stories of the bible are informing. They show us how people act, how they justify, and the bad outcomes that come from torturing the truth to fit one’s needs. They show us how people answer the big questions, how they sought them, and often how they misused them. This is what the bible does so extremely well.

The bible makes us think. It makes us cast our own troubles onto a similar story and look at how we are thinking and evaluating in juxtaposition. We strain the story and retain, hopefully, the moral lesson. And once we have it, we can then turn to our own trouble and let that moral guide us through the experience. It becomes our life-raft in a stormy sea. It allows us to keep our bearings in the storm, and finally arrive at the shore, battered and frightened, often realizing the decision is painful, but we are alive, still human from the experience.

We live in frightening times. Environmental, religious, political upheavals surround us. We are frightened as a nation, but more frightened as families. We feel insecure. We wish to blame. We wish to hold on with all our might to our assets. And we are prone to veer off course into immoral waters because of it. We are susceptible to the snake oil salesman and the con artist, whose profit comes from feeding us the lies we so want to believe are true.

Now is exactly the time to be most rigorous in our pursuit of truth. Let us not be swayed by the easy, the simple, the answer that makes us comfortable. It almost never is the truth. And survival, physical and spiritual, depend on truth. Jesus said so. Listen.

Amen.

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