The Easy Way

Baptism_of_the_LordToday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus makes his way to John the Baptist and in a turn about, has John baptize him, the one who has come to save the world. John’s mind must have been reeling at the thought.

As someone who was baptized well into adulthood, I can tell you that even in the most normal circumstances, the process of baptism is life-altering. One enters into the life and death of our Lord in a way that feels in the end like a great weight is removed from one’s heart.

I think the best explanation of what that feels like is akin to the first reading in today’s mass, Is 40: 1-5, indeed what is said in Mt 3:3 is from this passage in Isaiah.

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be

filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

For in our baptism, indeed we feel the sudden peacefulness and the sudden comfort of a great weight lifted from us. The Spirit of God has come upon us, and now our way is easy. We have the help of God. Our mountains and hills of life are made low, the turns of twists of everyday life are made plain, the world is no longer a desert of dry day-to-day purposelessness, but is a fertile world of joy and bounty.

Hope is ours, peace is ours, joy is ours. Of course that doesn’t end our ups and downs in life, but it does give a structure to them that makes sense. We can place the inevitable woes of life into perspective. We know who we are and what we are and where we are going. That is our rock and upon it we place all the vicissitudes of  life, knowing that all shall work out for good in the end.

It is unfortunate that most people experience baptism as an infant, I think. They are of course unaware of what has happened to them, and they miss this wonderful experience of awe and wonder which comes from a mindful understanding of what is occurring.

Yet our experience of remembrance of the Lord’s baptism is our time to recall the gift given us by a loving and gracious God. In placing ourselves in that place and time, we can but imagine the awe that overcame those in attendance. Imagine if you can some mighty movement of the heavens, sufficiently impressive to get your attention and cause you to gaze upward in expectation and wonder.

Imagine the breaking of the clouds and of it a dove descending. Imagine if you can the voice deeply moving in your heart which spoke, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”

Or is it that we hear but faintly within “you are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased.” Is that the echo we truly hear when  we contemplate this wondrous event that is the centerpiece of our  faith–Jesus  Christ.

Let us make it a regular practice to recall this time, this lifting of the burden of going it alone that so plagues us and so limits us. It is that which makes us stubborn and selfish, angry and short-tempered. We are not meant to be solitary creatures. We are made for community. The first community we enter is that of the Trinity.

Come, let us rejoice,  for like Jerusalem as Isaiah told us,

Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,

Amen.

Let There Be Light!

lightI once did a paper on the treatment of light in the bible. Phos as it is known in the Greek.  But the word light has played a significant role in our existential thinking for times well before the generation of the bible, and is not limited to those who espouse a Christian doctrine.

I had to laugh this morning as Father remarked upon Plato and his statement that most of mankind conceives of reality about as clearly as our ancient forefathers watched shadows play against the wall of the cave.

Father said in all sincerity, “for a pagan, Plato had a real insight!” Indeed he did, and perhaps he wasn’t quite the pagan you think he was. God speaks to all peoples in all times in ways that are conjunction with their time and place in the world.

As we struggled to free ourselves the “dark ages” which were admittedly only dark for some, we came into the “Enlightenment” that time when we began to see that things that we thought were mysteries of God, were explainable through human reason and study.

In our first reading today, Isaiah speaks of the light that is coming to Israel, a light that will be recognized, a light to be followed, and in following, the world will become rich. Of course Isaiah 60: 1-6 is thought to predict the coming of the Magi, who located the Christ child in Bethlehem and recognized him as the light that would lead his people as King.

And indeed, we often refer to Christ as light. Reading the first chapter of the Gospel of John assures us that Jesus is the light that brings life, the light that dispels the darkness.

Light in the Gospel and certainly among the Gnostics was akin to knowledge. In his person, Jesus brings true faith, he proclaims the true and direct path to God. He brings us the knowledge of things heavenly, things that cannot be grasped by reason alone, but through faith.

That is the message for us today as we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. Jesus comes into the world, into our personal world and offers us the light of knowledge. If we abide in him and in his teachings we live in the light. That allows the Spirit within us to guide us along the path of truth–the sure path to God’s loving embrace.

Now of course, many claim to follow Jesus. And many claim that others who make such claims do not in fact. How can we know?

There is no easy answer to this question. To be sure that one is doing the will of God, following the dictates of the Christ, is to almost always to fall into error. Those who profess that they have the “true” knowledge almost assuredly do not, and perhaps that is the hallmark of a false prophet.

Humility is the first hallmark I believe of living in truth. One must be ever ready to conclude that one has been wrong. One must be ever ready to read further, more deeply, and to struggle in prayer for a clearer understanding. We must implore God at every juncture show us our errors and lead us back to the straight road. We are all to enthralled with crookedness and we must keep that before us.

In reading the various things that Jesus said, or more correctly what was reported he said, we must look to the overarching theme of his dialogues. And of course, I explain nothing new when I suggest that the overriding theme of Jesus as love. Love of God, love of neighbor. One can never isolate a sentence or word from scripture as proof of anything else. It must be placed in the context of all that he said, for in the end we must confess that those who set quill to parchment lo those millenia ago were human and in being human they brought their own reason and history to their understanding of what Jesus meant.

That may fly in the face of some who claim that the bible the result of God directing perfectly the hand of the writer. The evidence doesn’t suggest that that was so, nor does logic if you think about it. If God dictated it, then well, I confess, God is and was not much of a writer. And besides, being a literalist simply is an easy way out. As is the claim by some that God meant for the average person, with no special education, to understand everything in it with ease. This leads to private interpretation and quite obviously is why we have tens of thousands of so-called Christian sects this day.

No those who claim that the bible is easily interpretable by anyone are surely just making life easy on themselves. Tens of thousands have spent a lifetime studying sacred documents, and they certainly make no such claims. The bible is complicated, perhaps as complicated as any “book” can be. So we tread carefully.

But with care, and attention, as I said, it is possible to see the broad foundations of Jesus’ teachings. We know that love, companionship, compassion, respect for our differences, embracing the poor and disadvantaged, respect for those we disagree with, service to others–these are the attributes of those who follow the Lord. With humility, curiosity, wonderment, awe, and joyous happiness, we go forth seeking the road and seeking to stay upon it.

I do not claim we will never stray if we do these things, but I am confident that we will be called back to the path if  we veer off. As long as we ask Christ each day, “Lord, teach me your ways!”

Amen.

 

Hark! Good News!

There aren’t many people who can’t tell you exactly how many days there are left before Christmas. That’s because time is running, and there is still so much to do. Menus to be finalized, food to be bought, baking to get done, presents to be bought and wrapped, cards to address, decorating to finish.

And so we limp into our places of worship this Sunday, and what an uplifting message we get. Just exactly when we need it.

And it comes, with a fanfare of trumpets blaring.

Listen. You can hear them.

Just like in movies of the times of merry old England, and certainly in those times in Rome when the Emperor was about to arrive, the trumpets were heard upon the ramparts.

The Good News is on its way! Rejoice, we hear again and again. Rejoice. We have been blessed with a God who listens and who responds to our call.

From Isaiah we are told that glad tidings come to the poor, the brokenhearted will be healed, the prisoners will be released. In the Magnificat, Mary rejoices that God will fill the hungry with good things and will have mercy on every generation. Paul says we all will be made perfect because our God is faithful and it will be accomplished.

John reminds us that we may believe all this because John the Baptist told us so. He told us that he was the one coming to announce the coming of the Light.

Such an important word “the Light.”

Such a word was known to Jews. Light was knowledge of the Lord, yet here it is used in a new way. Light is God and that God is coming among us to perfect us, and to heal and to have mercy. God as Light will teach us.

John the Baptist may indeed be a prophet of the Good News. But Paul warns, “test everything, retain what is good”. Paul is of course speaking after the fact, and is reminding us that we know what Jesus taught. Examine all that is given by so-called prophets in that light. Retain what is good. In other words, lay everything that is preached to you alongside the teaching of the Light, and keep only that which aligns with the Master’s teaching.

Would that that occurred today.

Today, we unfortunately have a plethora of spokespersons for the Light. And too many of them, sad so say, have messages that in the end serve to further other agendas. They seek to serve political parties or perceived ingrained beliefs that may have little or in some cases, nothing to do with what our Master taught.

When someone tries to tell you that Jesus would be for a certain economic ideology, by twisting a parable or taking a sentence all too literally, beware. Test everything. When someone attempts to  tell you that Jesus would be of this or that position in regards some sexual moray, beware. Test everything.

Prophets abound even today. And some are indeed listening to God, but some are not. Retain what is good.

Test against what the Light proclaims. What is warm and life-giving? What opens up for all to see? What offers hope, healing, mercy? What on the other hand is dark, divisive, and fearful? Reject it as not light.

Indeed, this is GOOD NEWS!

It is this good news that will carry us through the days and hours to come. It is this which sustains us through real and perceived obstacles and the dark. A new day is dawning. Come to the Light!

Amen.

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
Lk 1: 46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1Thes 5: 16-24
Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28

 

What More Was There to Do?

We are all of us fairly familiar with the parable of the vineyard owner who leaves his lands in the hands of tenants only to have the tenants attempt to hold the land for themselves and not return the profits to the owner.

We learn early on in our religious lives that the owner is God, the tenants are the Pharisees and Sadducees of the day, and the servants who come to collect the harvest are the prophets who have throughout the years warned Israel to turn from its wicked ways. Finally of course the Son goes to collect from the tenants and is murdered. It is not lost on the listeners that the Son is none other than Jesus himself.

The  climax is announced in the final sentence:

Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Simple isn’t it. We, the Gentiles or modern-day Christians, are the recipients of the Kingdom, given to us when God “gave up” on Israel.
We can nod with a smile, and go home from church feeling pretty darn special.

We would do well not to rest on our assumptions too long however.

If parables are living words to us today, as I believe all scripture is, then we must stop and think. Are we the Pharisees and Sadducees of our day?

Jesus wisely related this story back to its source in Isaiah:

What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?

And we must ask ourselves? Not what more should God have done but what more we should have done. If we look upon the kingdom and find it full of wild grapes, who is to blame? God? Or ourselves? Are we unworthy tenants as well as so many of those early Israelites were? Or are we the wild grapes themselves?

Neither prospect is particularly enjoyable to contemplate.

Rather than feeling self-satisfied as the new “inheritors” of the vineyard, we should examine our lives and works most carefully. When Jesus returns to take back his Kingdom, left in our hands, lo those centuries ago, what will he find? How will he find us?

Will the books balance? Will we have cared for the land and kept it fertile? Will we have made sure that the workers are healthy and strong, able to raise future generations of good workers?

These are important questions, and no doubt not a single one of us can feel secure that we will pass the test.

But if we have read scripture with care, we know that all is not lost if we find ourselves short of our goal. God is loving and forgiving and forever calls us to begin again, to get up and try once more. If we do that with sincerity and with good heart, we can be assured that Jesus himself will join us with clippers and baskets and together we will create God’s kingdom in perfect glory.

Amen.

Readings from Isaiah 5: 1-7

Matthew 21: 33-43
 

What God are We Talking About?

How do we define God? Humankind has been asking that question since the first human entertained the thought that there was some entity beyond himself.

No doubt Christians are directed to an answer in the first creation story, where the writer announces that God has made  man in “our” image.

We took from that, simplistically, that God must look like us, and certainly if one looks to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, one would agree. God indeed is just a “super” man.

And one thing generally leads to another and in this case, we naturally found it easy to conclude that God thinks as we do, and well, wants what we want.

Given that as humans, we all want a lot of things, I suppose that once in a while some of us hit the mark.

Isaiah reminds us that when we try to make God think as we do, we are surely in trouble.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Sadly, we seldom remember that warning. We all too often assume that God is understandable in the same way that we understand our spouse, our children, or our boss at work. We think that God not only thinks in the same manner that we do, but we ascribe the same emotions and psychological motivations to the Godhead.

We may not always do this consciously, for we do remember Isaiah, but subconsciously, we almost always forget. We think God is rooting for us to win the tennis match, and that God is pulling for us to get this job. We tend for forget, that at the other end is our tennis opponent, and someone else in need of a job, and that they are operating under the same assumption.

So is God choosing between us? Hardly.

God has no favorites, according to Jesus. God only uplifts and calls us to become the greatness that has been present within us from all time.

According to Jesus, God is about love and justice. He is for raising all of his children to their perfect potential. In infinite wisdom, if we each perform to our best ability in all things, then naturally all will work out for the best. The more physically capable on a given day will win the match, the most qualified, the job.

There is nothing unfair in this. If we lose, we can practice more, or we can seek more training. Or we can find a more suitable recreation or job, one that we are most qualified for.

God is about global, or intergalactic things, not our silly preference for this team or that to win a contest this Sunday. Of course it’s just not a matter of “the just thing will win out.” There are plenty of other variables that sometimes must also align. That is part of life. Bad things happen to good people.

Still, by not expecting God to grant our “righteous” request, we don’t place upon God that which is not his burden. We don’t declare ourselves still “too sinful” to succeed and redouble our prayers and spiritual regimen. We seek the true reasons for our failure and do what we can, if we can, to correct them.

Are you seeking the superman God or some other? ” What God are you talking about?
**Isaiah 55:8-9

 

It’s Always a Process

Readings:

Is: 55:10-11

Ps: 65:10,11, 12-13-14

Rom: 8-18-23

Mt: 13:1-23

What these readings have in common is process. We sow seeds, rain falls, crops grow and are harvested. Even the reading from Romans suggests that process is the key. Creation is a process that is being worked out in time.

Typically, what is garnered from Matthew’s parable of the sower, is that we must be the fruitful seed. We must take the Word, let it enrich us, grow in us and we must then use it to facilitate the creating desire of God. And that is perfectly true.

Yet, it also bespeaks something about our faith and how it prospers or not. I often wonder how a fundamentalist reads this parable. Surely they don’t see themselves as seed that has fallen on rock or the path. They see themselves as seed that fell into rich soil. They do not let the cares of the world, or the vicissitudes of life interfere with their dedication to Jesus and the Gospel.  They remain committed to their understanding of the Word.

But I suggest there is another way to look at the parable and the readings in general. They don’t necessarily relate to one’s tenacity in committment to “spreading the Word” but rather to the process of being in faith.

And what we see here is change. There is a process being announced. Seed, rain, soil, each is needed. The seed bursts forth, becomes a plant, sets seed, produces its fruits, and then is harvested. It’s not simply a matter of sowing day in and day out. It’s not merely a matter of reading the same passages again and again and reminding ourselves of the standard meanings.

Growth and change signify each of these readings, and that means ourselves as well as our duties to spread the “good news.”

To cast in iron the meaning of any parable or any passage is to stop growing. And to stop growing is death. We can wave the banner of faith, but if it is a faith that is stagnant, unyielding in its interpretation, then we are failing quite simply to honor Jesus’ words.

Faith is messy as some have suggested. It is, and should be full of starts and stops, turns, flips, inquiry, doubt, doubling back, and throwing up our hands in confusion. We should get angry sometimes, we should find deep peace at others, joy often, confidence–in other words, faith involves the entire panoply of our emotions.

Faith is a living thing. For we are in the process of a creation, one that is still ongoing, still unfolding. And we are deeply a part of that process. The very evidence that our world is not as it should be is all the evidence we need. It is not complete because we are not complete.

Faith is work. It’s not easy nor always pleasurable. Talk to those of advanced spiritual growth and they will explain all the months and sometimes years of deep meaningless agony that must be fought through. To the degree that we attempt to avoid that, but painting a picture of faith as steady and unchanging, we contribute to the stalling of creation unfolding from us. We become the rocky soil, the path where fruitless sowing has occurred.

It is like walking along with a handful of seeds and each step turns to concrete before us. We can sow seed all day long, and we will produce nothing. The vessel is sterile, and can generate no life.

That is what seems to me is the fundamentalist. The fundamentalist has deeply erred in concluding that any question, any confusion about what the Word might mean, is not faith and thus must be avoided at all costs. Fear becomes the stick that guides the fundamentalist.

We must realize that we are in process as believers. It is okay to say, I don’t know. It is okay to say, I can’t agree with that this seems to say, therefore, I must dig deeper to uncover its meaning. It is okay to conclude that perhaps the writer was wrong! But it is right to seek answers that satisfy one’s heart, because that is the truest location of good judgment.

It is all about growth. Jesus called his disciples to grow out of their old thinking into new thinking, and in doing so, he shows us how to as well. Remember, on more than one occasion Jesus made clear that there was ever so much more to tell and to learn, more than he had time for in his short time in our world. So he taught us a method–simply love your God with all your heart, mind and soul, your fellow human being as yourself, and be servant to all.

That is how we grow: by each day making a new effort to proceed throughout that day mindful of those directives.

Amen.

 

Are You Ready?

“The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue. So that I may know how to reply to the wearied he provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear. For my part I made no resistance, neither did I turn away.” [Is 50:4-5]

The days and nights of Lent have been long. We have struggled, we have wept, we have prayed.

We have offered penance in sincerity. We have humbly walked with our Lord in the desert.

We sing his praises as he enters the City, waving our palms of joy. We yearn for a glimpse of his face.

And yet, we know the awful road that lies ahead, the pain and sorrow that this next week brings. We choke on the words, CRUCIFY HIM!  We reject the words in our hearts. We want with all our minds, souls, and hearts, to hear when Pilate asks: “Who shall be spared?” the sweetest of all words: JESUS!!! But we know the awful truth.

Yet, the time is not yet here. We stand poised at the gate.

Are you ready to enter into Jerusalem?

Who Will Answer?

One of the fun things about belonging to a liturgical church is that one can try to figure out why the particular readings each day and Sunday were placed together. Sometimes it’s easy, other times, it’s really hard to figure.

I puzzled about today’s readings:

 Isa 49: 3, 5-6
1Cor 1: 1-3
Jn 1:29-34

 The first reading is commonly called the Second Song of the Servant. The reading from Paul letters is simply an introduction and greeting, and the gospel reading from John refers to the Baptist’s recognition that Jesus is indeed to “one who is to come.”

The story of the Baptist is well-known, and frankly it is in some contradiction to the other accounts, especially as to the circumstances of Jesus’ baptism and John’s recognition of Him as the Chosen One. But exegesis is not the point here. As always, we believe that the Scriptures are alive and speak to us in every generation. Therefore, we contemplate what these passages mean to us today.

The key is in the Gospel. John is very clear that his purpose is to proclaim the coming of the Chosen One. He is to prepare people for that time. And John spends his adult life doing just that, and he relates that this command from God was true, for indeed he met the Chosen One, and as God said, the Spirit came down upon him. We may trust  John.

In Isaiah, the Servant is Israel, the ideal spokesperson. Israel will be the “light to the nations” so that “salvation can reach the ends of the earth.” In other words, Israel is called to preach, and teach all nations, everyone about this God, this one and only One God.

Paul speaks as a preacher, called by God to be apostle to the world, but as he realizes, most especially to the Gentiles. Yet Paul points out in this short introduction to the Corinthians, that these “new” holy people in God, are to “take their place among all the saints” for Jesus is “their Lord no less than ours.”

What does all this mean? I see it as a message to us all, that we, the people of God are a priesthood, called to be witness to the Truth. As John was witness, as Israel was called to be witness, as Paul was, and as he calls the Corinthians to be. Witness to the message of Jesus.

And exactly how do we do this? Ah, the rub.

Some of course spend years in seminary, and college classroom learning the intricacies of scripture. They learn Hebrew and Koine Greek, they study under theologians and biblical experts who have spent a lifetime studying the texts from various means and ways.

Thus, we can teach by teaching the historical truths of Scriptures, we can explain how the Bible was put together, when each writing was written, by whom, (if known), for what purpose. We can put things in context, and give deeper meaning to the literal words.

Others study for the purpose of leading congregations and attending to the spiritual needs of the people of God. Surely they attempt to explain scripture, but the primary focus is perhaps to “bring it home” –what it means for us today, in our ordinary mundane and often painful lives.

Others are simply gifted, and without much formal education in the niceties of exegetics or pastoral care, seem to have a flair for it. They perhaps read widely on their own, but they intuitively seem to “get” the message of love and compassion, of care and support, and can translate everything through that lens.

Some perhaps think that scriptures are simple of reading and understanding and perhaps do more harm than good with their unknowing but self-serving analysis.

But we need not all “preach” by words. We do not all need pulpits or soap boxes. Most of us can witness in an arguably better and easier way.

Easier? Well perhaps not easier. Perhaps it’s the hardest way of all.

It is by living our lives in ways that make people sit up and take notice.

“What makes Mary or Joan  or Eddy so happy? What makes them so serene? What makes them so helpful and calm in every trouble? The first to volunteer, the first to be at bedside, the first to lend a sympathetic ear.”

People seek out such people and gravitate to their world. They seek to learn the secrets to their life. They see that such people suffer setbacks and heartache fully as much as everyone else, yet they  rise ever up, peaceful and ready to move on.

This is hard work, make no mistake. For the internal work required to be Christ like is no small thing. Few are highly successful, many are quite successful. Yet, I think that such people stand as the greatest “witness” to God’s love and grace than a bushel full of preachers ever can.

We are called to embody our God. We are called to witness.

This is what I found in scripture today. How about you?

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?

It’s All About Light

We come by our love of the light quite naturally I think. We were once without protection from wild beasts and the elements. Light promised calmness, the ability to see into the distance. That which can be frightening, even upon a cave wall, turns out to be nothing in the light of day.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. We celebrate the light that has come in Jesus.

Isaiah 60-1-6 announces that the light has come! Along with this we are told to “shine out” as well. And indeed that is what we are called to.

Light has come to mean in the scriptures, many things. It means “the good” as opposed to the evils of darkness. It means to come into knowledge, out of the world of myth and misunderstanding. It means God, Jesus and the Spirit.

Who has not, believer or not, stood with face towards the East at day break or to the West at sunset and, feeling the rays of sunlight, felt moved. Felt cosmically connected to something greater?

Isaiah speaks of a time when everyone will flock to the light–flock to Jerusalem in his time, the center of knowledge of the One True God. The center of worship, the residence of the Holiest of Holies. Everyone, in the time of the final and perfect Kingdom will accede to Jerusalem as the point of glory.

This reading reflects the Kingship that we believe dawned in the birth of Jesus. It is coupled with Matthew 2:1-12. Both refer to bringing gifts of gold and incense. To the infant King, as described by the Magi. His coming is known by the star, seen by the magi and by the shepherds. Again the light shines upon us, guiding us.

The light guides the Magi to the child, as it does the shepherds. Yet, mystery abounds, as the Magi are warned to not return to Herod. This in a dream or vision. They do not. They protect the light. The light is ultimately carried to Egypt where it remains until Herod is dead, and no longer a threat.

Paul in Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6 refers to this mystery, the mystery that Jesus is the Jerusalem, the center of the Kingdom, the light. He tells the Gentiles that they too are now part of this New Jerusalem, this city of Light. And Jesus, the real light has made it so, through the will of God.

Mystery and light, dance together in a beautiful symphony. It is what we feel in that mysterious moment when the rays of the sun caress our cheek and we experience the profound “something” that is inexplicable, yet so very real. We feel presence, unity, serenity in those fleeting moments.

And as Isaiah, points out, we are to “shine out”. We are not here just to receive this perfect grace, but to shine forth to the world what we have seen, felt, and what we believe.

As we move ever closer to the light, embracing it with out minds and hearts and souls, our light grows stronger and we have more to give, more to offer others. We discover that light is never-ending, never exhaustible, always renewed and renewing.

The more light we give, the more we receive, and the more we can give. It is that wonderful perfect paradox that is God.

Come share in the light, submit to the mystery, and SHINE OUT!

Amen.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: