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.

 

 

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Waffles Anyone?

Have you ever made waffles? No I don’t mean open the freezer and pop a couple of frozen discs into the toaster. I mean make up a batter and heat up the waffle iron. Real waffles, the kind your mother used to make?

One has to learn the art of waffling. It’s not the batter, any good cookbook will give you the simple recipe. No, the art is in the pouring. Too little and the waffle is deformed with incomplete edges. Too much, and batter drips out of the iron and makes an awful mess.

Just right? Ahh, now that is a thing to behold. You learn by doing. Pouring and then watching as the batter oozes and slides around the patterned nubs. When you have the right amount, it runs slowly like lava until it has covered the entire grid. Close the lid, and wait until it’s golden and you have perfection.

Today’s readings remind me of waffles.

Jesus relates a number of parables all of which have a common theme: that the Word infiltrates throughout the world.

The good seed grows up among the weeds and at harvest can be separated. The mustard seed grows, it fills out into branches and twigs and becomes a wonderful full shrub that can support and care for those who nest within its intricate structure. The yeast permeates the entire dough, leavening it all over time.

We learn that if we live as vital members of the Kingdom, we too permeate all of creation and leaven it for good.  Some of our “good works”, our “good neighborly” voice rubs off on those around us. Or as the Buddhist might say, good karma draws good karma.

We look at the world around us and there is little to be happy about. Governments worldwide fail miserably to serve their people. Our misbegotten practices, designed to satisfy our own greed has seemingly turned Mother Nature against us. People argue and war against each other over real or imagined wrongs, greed, fear, and other negative emotions. It is easy to believe that we are “going to hell in a handbasket” as the old saying suggests.

These parables give us comfort in remembering that that is not so. In the Hebrew Testament from Wisdom, we are reminded that God is always just, and when we emulate that justice, that mercy, and that forgiveness, we are most like God and we can be assured that we are seeping into the cracks of a broken world, working the magic that is love. We are joining together, uniting a fractured community and binding it together. We knit a network that provides hope and security to a frightened people.

Paul reminds us in Romans that we do not act alone, but that the Spirit of God is ever with us, perfecting our words and actions so that they are more than the woeful efforts of our individual desire. The Spirit residing within makes our words more loving, more gentle, more powerful. We reap a greater harvest than we perhaps can be aware of. We remember to trust that our meagre efforts will yield a hundredfold.

We are not alone as souls lost among the evil of our times. We are lighthouses providing the guiding light that calls home the frightened and tired sailor. We form an interconnected network that upholds and uplifts humanity to an ever-growing awareness of God’s center in us all. We are a thread in the tapestry that creates the perfection that really underlies all the mud we seem mired in.

Or we can be. If we remember.

Amen.

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8: 26-27
Matthew 13: 24-33

 

An Offering of Peace

We live in an information era in case you missed it. That’s both good and bad. Good in that we can share information with disparate people and save ourselves a lot of duplication and research time.

Bad in that, well. Consider this:

There is a commercial the subject of which escapes me (that is fairly normal, many ads grab your attention but never quite tie their message to the product). Anyway this particular one is about the linking problem.

The daughter says, “I need to get new shoes for the dance,” and the mother, repeats, “shoes? Menolas, designer pumps,” and the father repeats, “pumps? gasoline pumps, need to refill the car.” And this goes on and on as people finally go into a loop and just stand there mesmerized, their brains in lockdown.

That’s what can happen in our information craze. Go to read a post, and start following the links, and follow those links, and soon you are 42 subjects from where you started, and none the wiser usually.

My mind seems a constant whirl of thoughts, but I guess the Internet has nothing to do with that. It’s the way we are. If you are a meditator, you certainly appreciate what I’m saying. How to clear the mind, and remain simply present?

Our readings today reflect advice that most of us should take to heart. Stop thinking so much!

Isaiah reminds us that we need not spend time worrying about whether God is and will remain faithful. That is like asking a woman to forget her baby. It’s just not gonna happen. (Isa 49:14-15)

Paul reminds us in 1Cor 4:1-5 that we shouldn’t be worrying about whether other folks are doing what they should either. It’s not up to us to judge, so why spend the time even thinking about such things. If you’ve ever sat in church and looked around, and casually thought, “my but that person seems interested in everything but worship today” you know what I mean. Of course, I guess we weren’t thinking much about worship either, but somehow that thought seems to escape us.

Jesus, really makes this very clear in MT 6:24-34. He reminds us that the  birds of the air do absolutely nothing to warrant their food, yet God takes care of them. And why should we worry about what to wear? The flowers of the field are made resplendent, with nary a lifted leaf to warrant their beauty.

The readings today tell us, in total, to stop worrying about ourselves and others. God will take care of all. And it’s good advice, for the most part. Again, anyone who meditates knows this. If you pay attention to the thoughts that float across your mind when you are sitting in silence, you will find that mostly ninety percent of them have to do with worrying about things past or fears of what may come. We simply don’t live much in the moment.

In the moment. So easy to say, so very hard to do. To stay present to our loved ones, to the activity at hand. No doubt most “accidents” are caused by inattention to what is at hand. We’re busy texting, or talking, or thinking of something else.

Reflect back to something twenty, thirty years ago. Remember a time when your hours were filled with worry about X. Remember the emotional agony you endured. Painful hours spent worrying. And X never happened. If you are like most of us, you’ve done this enumerable times throughout your life. We all have.

If we only knew the value of the present moment, that ephemeral moment that as soon as you recognize it, is past. The ever-changing moment. Yet it is here that God is. It is here we meet the transcendent. It is here we live and have our being. It is the only thing that we can claim as “ours.”

Yet, as important as this is. There is need to think of the future. It would be imprudent to not make plans. I mean is it not intelligent to save money for our old age? Is it not prudent to study hard with a view to good grades and better college prospects? Do we not plan for vacations, our children’s health, and myriads of other things?

Yes, as Shakespeare would say, “there’s the rub.” Some thinking about the future is essential to live practical lives. We have to plan shopping trips lest there be no food in the house. Prudence dictates a certain amount of forethought.

So, where is the dividing line? For Jesus suggests that we need not worry about our food or clothing, God will take care of us. Well, perhaps we take that too literally. Perhaps what Jesus was saying is that we should not spend our time worrying about such things. Worrying and planning are not the same. Peter and Andrew and the others planned for their livelihood by going out to fish. They didn’t expect the fish to beach themselves on shore for them to scoop up.

Jesus’ admonition seems more along the lines of our tendency to obsess about the future. When we read further into the passage, he reminds us to:

Set your heart on  his Kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.

In other words, do your normal jobs of life, but do them with an eye to living as God would have you. Good things come when  we love God, and our neighbor. Being present to God enables us to do that “good job” and grace results. We are fed.

Be the New Creation

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

 Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Ps 29: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10
Acts 10: 34-38
Mt 3: 13-17
 

 Somehow on this day of deep sadness in our country, it seems most appropriate. God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to behold.

Yesterday, a sick young man perpetrated an unspeakable act upon us, resulting in the death of six and the serious wounding of ten others. We know not yet if they will all recover. People, who just happened to be in a seemingly innocuous place, were struck down by bullets. A mother and father lost their 9-year-old. A judge, just fresh from morning mass, suddenly is gone.

What can we, what must we, learn from such a tragedy? Words matter. They matter so much more than we can ever know. We don’t usually mean the harshness which they sometimes imply, the dangerous rhetoric they evoke, yet we are today reminded that in the hands of the mentally ill, they can set off a firestorm, by their use.

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. (Is 42: 1-4, 6-7)

The Church declares and believes that this is a reference to Jesus, a prophesy of the future coming from the prophet Isaiah. Whether that is true or not is not important. For the words speak to each of us, reminding us that truth and justice come via peaceful, quiet, relentless standing up for what is right. It requires no shouting, no violence. Truth and justice have a strength and security all their own, empowered by the Spirit.

Like Jesus, we too are called upon in these dangerous times to forgo dangerous and incendiary rhetoric. We are called upon to speak truth to power and to stand steady and unfailing for justice. We need not utter a word. We must only stand as silent witness to injustice and inequality.

We need not bruise the reed, nor quench the light of life in anyone to do this. Through our birth and baptism we have breathed in the Spirit, the Spirit of love and peace which speaks for us, as us.

God has taken us by the hand and through his son Jesus, shown us the way. He has made straight our path to righteousness. We follow by example.

In the reading from Acts, Peter says:

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.

God shows no partiality. His love is unbounded, immeasurable. We are all, sinner and saint alike, made by the One, perfect in creation. This means that this poor demented young man is as much loved by God as the 9-year-old victim. Both are victims of our senseless game of  hate mongering and scoring political points. We as surely made the young shooter a victim when we teased him with our vile speech, and used words of violence to make analogous points. We touched off a series of incoherent thoughts that resulted in his picking up a gun and heading out to achieve his confused ends.

We are acceptable by God for use to the right ends to the degree that we follow his example through his Son, acting always with love and compassion. We are still loved, no matter what, but God can not work in us when we are consumed with not-love, much as Jesus could work no miracles in some towns in Galilee because there was no faith.

In the Gospel, Matthew places these words upon the Lord’s lips:

“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”

Here, John has protested that it is he that should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Jesus comforts him and tells him to do as he has asked.

“Allow it now.” We cry out, “No, God, don’t allow us to harm each other like this!” But God in perfect wisdom, comforts us, and “allows it now.” Why?

I’m tempted to say the usual thing–we cannot know God’s ways, but only trust. Yet this is never good enough.

There is a tipping point that we as humans must reach. A sufficient number of us, enough to sway our neighbors, our community, our nation, our world. We must each find enough rage and helplessness at the events of yesterday that we are ready to step up and stand up for justice and what is right. It is “fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” We must do this. God calls.

Will we answer?

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