Trying to Understand You

shoesIn reading Luke this week, I find Jesus’ missing a bigger issue.

Yeah, I know, what chutzpah!

Jesus tells us on the one hand to be humble lest we be embarrassed by being taken down a peg or two if someone more illustrious shows up. And then he pretty much trashes that whole idea, but telling us that, we should avoid the whole patron/client thing of his time, and be really radical and invite only the poor, the forgotten, and the rejected of society to our banquets. God will repay us for that–we repay each other with the former.

Jesus says that we do this because “they can’t repay the debt”–the poor. And so, I assume that means that our largess in giving this big food binge is truly a giving.

Ask anyone who gives of their time at any sort of aid organization. They will tell you that they “receive much more than they give”. This always seems a problem from my point of view. If I am getting more than I give, then I’m getting my debt repaid quite well aren’t I? And it doesn’t matter whether I am getting repaid by all those who see me and think I’m something else for being so giving, or whether I’m getting my reward from God. I’m “buying” something in either case, am I not?

I work at a food pantry once a week for a couple of hours. I work in the back with the food. I notice that when I leave the facility, those who have come there to get food tend to not want to engage with me. They don’t look my way, they often don’t respond to a hello. I don’t engage with them inside the facility because I don’t do “that part”. I know there is a lot of filling out of forms and questions.  I’m sure it’s not pleasant to be questioned like this, all to obtain a few bags of groceries once a month.

The point is, I’m always a bit shocked at this. I’m the benefactor come to help, aren’t I? What’s not to like?

Now, please understand I am not there for that, but I do admit it surprises one when people are sullen, look away, and aren’t beaming with happiness. After all, we are all beaming, smiling, and admiring each other in the back for our willingness to extend a helping hand. Oh, yeah, that’s that “I get more than I give” thing isn’t it? We feed off admiring each other for our goodness. Even the average “random act of kindness” involves SOMEBODY seeing what you did.

And that all just bothers me a lot. I don’t feel that I should take away more than I gave, or even break even.

And I realized that there is really no way around this dilemma, for there are precious few circumstances where one can give meaningfully and be totally anonymous too.

But there is one way we dive deeply into the issue.

And that is to try to immerse ourselves in what it must be like to be the one who “cannot repay the debt.”

Such a journey is fraught with danger. One of the worst things any of us can do is to think or say, “I know how you feel.” The reality is that we can’t. Even when we have “been there, done that” we can’t truly know how anyone else feels in the same circumstances since they come with their own sets of experiences and personality skills that are always going to be different from ours.

But we can try to put ourselves in their shoes. Think of any time when you were utterly in someone else’s hands or worse, you were simply in the hands of “facts” that you couldn’t know yet. Anyone who has waited for the week to transpire to learn the results of a medical test starts to see my point. When did you feel helpless? When you had no control of your immediate future?

Letting those feelings wash over you I suspect gives you a view of at least how it feels to be one of those who stands in long lines to receive something called “free.” Free food, medical care, housing, clothes. A whole statement comes in the bag of food. You are presumed to be lazy, incompetent, a failure in life, or some combination. That may be, and usually is, far, far from the truth. You have made poor decisions probably, but so have all of us. Most of us have had the family safety net to ensure that we didn’t have to go public with our limitations.

When I see a group of men standing around talking as I leave the pantry, I still smile and say hello, but I don’t seek a response now. I don’t wonder why they don’t answer. I just try to imagine how painful it is to need like this. And I can appreciate their desire to be anonymous in their need.

It may not be walking a mile in another’s shoes, for that is not really a possibility, but it is growing in empathy, and it cuts against judging. Those are both good things. It’s the best I can come up with so far.

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The Mother Lode of Teaching

faithinthealleyWhat riches we have today. One hardly knows where to begin. I could write an entire reflection on the beauty of the words attributed to Moses:

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

God is as near as your very breath. You do not need degrees in theology or biblical studies to know this. You can feel it. As Moses said, it is already in your mouths and in your hearts. It is part of who we are. God’s love resides within us as the spark that ignites our life and sustains us until it pleases God to return us to Himself.

It is what moves us as our stomach tightens at the beauty of a sunrise, the sweet smell of a newborn, or the tender caress of a loved one. God sighs in the morning breeze and kisses our shoulders in the warming rays of sunlight. God is close and if we sit in the silence of his love, we KNOW both this and what it means to “carry it out”, being the human that we are called to be.

The parable of the good Samaritan brings us up sharply against our desire to somehow make “God’s will” hard to understand, and thus excusable when we fail. For we do desire that understanding God’s will be hard. We after all, are using so much of scripture to work out our salvation. We want to be different, apart from others who don’t care about “being saved.”

Look at the opening gambit by the scholar. What is he interested in?

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Not what must I do to understand God’s will for me? What might I do to be a good person? What must I do to honor God? No, his concern is what must he do–what is the minimum requirement that I must fulfill to get where I want to go–my eternal salvation. It’s a “me” question.

Jesus simply confounds the scholar with his answer. The scholar must have been deeply pricked by the implications.

First the priest avoids the wounded man. The priest is following good “law”. He is following good religious law–avoid the unclean lest you have to interrupt your journey to return for purification. He didn’t have time, he had important “church” business to attend to.

How many times have you heard  remarks from alleged Christians who claim that the bible doesn’t “support” government aid to the poor, that it is the proper jurisdiction of   individuals–individuals like themselves who need and want to feel “good” and “righteous” through their largess? How many times have you heard them say that to support the homeless by feeding them only encourages them in their “laziness”?

We rely on out-of-context remarks from Paul suggesting that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat as justification for our “legalism”, and our refusal to help, much as the priest did in the parable.

Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask the fellow questions and first be satisfied that his behavior is not a ruse for free food and lodging. Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask at the innkeeper if the fellow is known as a vagrant, lazy and unwilling to work. Jesus DID NOT SAY, tell the innkeeper that once he is on his feet that he should work off his debt or be thrown out. Jesus DID NOT SAY, worry yourself sick wondering if you’ve been duped by a con artist out of a few dollars and a loaf of bread.

Jesus DID SAY to GO AND DO LIKEWISE, as the Samaritan had done.

I am continually confounded why those who claim that the Word of God is just that, the ACTUAL LITERAL WORD of God, and yet continually caveat, ignore, explain, and parse the meanings of this parable as well as the great commandment of Matthew 25: when you failed to do it for them, you failed to do it for me. The literalism screams at us in both these statements, yet somehow it is explained away.

I have to wonder why.

I can only come up with the fact that too too many of us supposed Christians are like the scholar–the poor (whom they claim Jesus admitted would always be with us) are there for the purpose of helping us “real Christians” work out our salvation. They are the fodder for our charity machine that spits out a “receipt” if we wish one, that can be taken to our graves to present to St. Peter as our proof that we were properly charitable.

We have our receipts, and we have taken our proper deductions from our tax obligations. We have done our duty, and so leave the rest of my money to me, government, for I plan on going to Disney world this year. After all, I’m entitled. I did my Christian duty and I have the receipts to prove it.

I bet that Samaritan fellow couldn’t wait to tell all his neighbors that he had worked out his salvation too on that road to Jericho that day. Yes I’m sure that’s what Jesus meant. I’m sure that’s what he really meant.

Amen.

Who Am I?

whoamIMuch has been written about the passage in Luke wherein Jesus asks of his disciples: Who do you say that I am? Much will continue to be written about it no doubt. And the writings will be important and informative as they always are.

Who we view Christ as, will continue to be an important question, one that we must answer again and again as we move through this mortal life.

But I hazard the guess that our answer tells us far more. It  informs us significantly who we are. And I suggest that it is just as profitable that we ask this question of ourselves.

Who am I?

To say that Jesus is the Christ is to impart little real information. All believing Christians would say as much, yet one must admit that all believing Christians are not the same. What do we mean by that affirmation? If we mean that Jesus was the one sent by God to save us from ourselves, to provide the gateway to a place called heaven merely by affirming his correct appellation, then it says much about who WE are doesn’t it?

It suggests that our faith journey has been stalled at the most primitive and self-serving. Surely this is not what Jesus meant for us. Surely that is not the meaning of the what Luke records Him as having said:

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Those are powerful words. Worse, they are frightening. We must be willing to lose our lives in order to save it. And the ironic point of this is that while this might seem utterly self-serving, when we actively lose our lives we have lost any sense of saving ourselves at all. We have transcended that earthly way of being.

Losing our lives does not mean literally, it means to recognize and relinquish the daily investment in life that we as humans seem married to. The slogging it out in a world of like-minded individuals, each struggling to “make it” however defined. Each trying to secure their piece of the pie, getting their fair share, working for the “good life”, preparing for retirement, all the mess that we find part of life.

Letting go of that agenda, that mind-set is what is meant. Are you ready to live for others? Are you ready to spend your waking moments engaged in making the world a better place, not compelled by some belief that you are “working out your salvation” but simply motivated by love for humanity?  Are you uninterested in the newest model car, but finding “transportation” sufficient if it gets you where you need to be to help where that is needed? Are you unconcerned about the stock market and the condition of your portfolio on a daily basis, but trust that God will provide and keep your eyes on the tasks at hand?

If this is how you view Jesus as the Christ, then you have and are answering who you are.

It is a common enough question. It is all too often answered with the usual, spouse, parent, professional position response. We are those things surely, but we are something so much more. We are spiritual beings created to relate to our Creator. We are living out a human existence, but when that is over we shall return to our true existence.

If all that be true, then our time here as creature is purposely so. If life can be described by most as short and filled with a  fair amount of pain, then there must be something we are missing when we spend every waking moment worrying and fretting and plotting and scheming to get to some “place” of comfort and happiness. If that is who we are, then we are not in the Kingdom, we are running from it.

Jesus surely did not need to ask the question of Peter. He clearly knew from long hours, weeks and months of living intimately together, exactly what Peter thought of him. No, he asked Peter, as he asks us, in order to force us to confront ourselves and what we have made and are making of this precious time as human.

Who are you?

Amen.

 

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

Arise!

FAITH-RISE-350-1The readings today focus on victory over death. We are familiar with them both. In 1 Kings, Elijah returns the widow’s son to life. Similarly in Luke, Jesus stops a funeral procession, and returns to life a son to his widowed mother.

In a real sense two lives are saved, for as widows, both women were dependent upon their sons, the sons who would take care of them as soon as they were of an age.

But are these lessons about victory over death in a physical sense?

Surely we know that both of these sons would eventually die, their lives were being lengthened, they were not going to be immortal. So what are we to learn?

We learn of course that God has power that transcends all our physical laws. To us and our scientific understanding, all things that live eventually die. We know of no way to change that. It appears to be the way of life. Yet we know that our Creator must and does control even life itself. And if God does this, then, there must be something beyond our mere lives. If there was nothing else there would be no point in prolonging this life we each live, for in the end is mere dust.

Indeed when we look at the companion reading in Ephesians, it becomes clear. Paul faces and endures a different kind of death–the death of his old way of life. Born as a Pharisee, Paul rose through the ranks to be an exemplary Pharisee, following the traditions of his family and Judaism. He, no doubt, proudly persecuted these upstart Jews lead by Jesus.

Yet, all fell away from him in a moment of revelation. We know the story well, and Paul tells us himself that he was not “taught” this new way of being. He, seemingly instantly, sees. He sees that his entire life has been devoted to the wrong way of being, and he sees the right path. From that moment forward, he becomes an apostle to the Gospel. So sure is he of his new truth, that he feels no necessity to check in with those who had lived, eaten, slept, and walked for three years with Jesus. He needed no check. He literally had been reborn, raised from his own death.

Some in our times refer to the “coming to Christ” as being “reborn”. Indeed baptism is a death to sin and rebirth. But of course we continue to sin, for we are human. And wise followers of Jesus know that this death and rebirth are continuous events in our lives, hopefully occurring again and again as we mature in our discipleship.

The stories of the widows and the return of their sons to life bring us joy, not in the miracles described, but in the hope that we retain from pondering them. God has ultimate power over the very act of death, how much more over our foibles and shortcomings? God can and does call us patiently and with love to renew and reclaim our godliness in Christ.

God is always calling us to arise.

Do we hear?

Do we answer?

Amen.

I remember my childhood when the sunrise,
like my play-fellow, would burst in to my bedside
with its daily surprise of morning;
when the faith in the marvelous bloomed
like fresh flowers in my heart every day,
looking into the face of the world in simple gladness;
when insects, birds and beasts, the common weeds,
grass and the clouds had their fullest value of wonder;
when the patter of rain at night brought dreams
from the fairyland, and mother’s voice in the evening
gave meaning to the stars.

And then I think of death,
and the rise of the curtain
and the new morning
and my life awakened in its fresh surprise of love.**

From Rabindranath Tagore, Crossing

 

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.

 

Touching the Transcendent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we not still seek out these places?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

 

Insanity or Faith?

miraculous-catch2It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different outcome.

If that is true, then there must be a fine line between insanity and faith. For faith calls us to believe that the outcome will be different even though our prayer has remained unanswered over and over again.

Saint Monica is a perfect example. Mother of the great Church Father Augustine, Monica was a woman of Christian faith who bore a son by a pagan who himself remained pagan for many years. Monica prayed unceasingly that her son would see the light and join the true faith.

After many years we know of course, that her prayers were finally answered. Augustine saw the truth in one moment of clarity, and went on to be the Bishop of Hippo and one of our greatest theologians.

But we need not go to ancient times to find examples. We too do it in our every day lives. “Practice makes perfect” is a euphemism for the fact, that we humans are tenacious in our determination to succeed. We are told to “get up, dust ourselves off, and try again.” We DO expect different outcomes. We search for the error of our past attempt and seek to rectify it. We are by nature people of great faith.

In Luke 5: 1-11 we have the story of the miraculous catch. Jesus calls Peter and the others to put back out to sea, and after addressing the crowds, he tells Peter to let out the nets. Having spend the night fishing with no results, Peter protests, “Master we have worked hard all night and caught nothing!”

One can imagine Jesus smiling gently, as if to say, “Peter we have done this all before many times. When will you trust me?” Of course he doesn’t, perhaps the look is enough. You can almost hear the sigh from Peter as he reaches for the net, “at your command, I will lower the nets.” Of course we all know what happened.

Children intuitively I think never give up. They have yet to have a firm grip on “reality” and so they do expect a different outcome. Each peek-a-boo is anticipated with the same first-time-ever expectation–What will happen next? As we grow up, and lose this sense of wonder, we lose our abilities sometimes to “try again.” This is especially true about the big issues. We may try again and again to bake that cake that seems always to turn out dismally, but we are sometimes loathe to try again a relationship when we have been hurt badly.

We may give up on politics as a worthless pursuit because the engines of government turn so slowly and the rancor is so intense that “nothing will ever get done.” Yet there are, thankfully, tens of thousands, who keep the nose to the grindstone and incrementally, maybe over decades, make small but ultimately important changes. A life time might be spent on preserving one small wet-land. Who is to say that this is not great faith along with dogged work?

Jesus’ lesson is that faith does in fact move mountains. Peter and the others are changed in ways that we can but fathom from a distance. In this instance all the fine words of Jesus fall away, wonderful as they are and were. Peter has realized in one moment in time that everything he has invested in this man of Galilee has been worth it, and though he cannot yet know, it will be worth all that he endures and suffers in the future.

Through Peter’s faith, we realize our own. We stand a bit straighter, for the burden lightens. We are not alone in our failures and missings of the mark. Jesus is here with us, and he urges us to try once more. Our faith is worth our investment in it. We are reassured that we are not beating our heads against a wall. The cake one day will turn out perfectly.

Life can appear at time to be drudgery and hardship. In the midst of trauma, we forget the moments of sweetness and pure bliss. If we remember this miraculous catch, we will remember too that the sun will be back soon, our dreams will become reality and our hearts will sing the joys of life.

Have faith.

Love much.

Try again.

Amen.

 

What Is Family?

holy_family3Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. It is both right and good that we do this, for we owe honor to Mary and Joseph for their care and raising of Jesus during his early years.

But, as we do, it is also right that we look at our own families to  discern how we do or do not exhibit our love for God through those relationships.

Perhaps today as in no other times, families are under assault, but not in the way our brothers and sisters on the far Right might explain. They of course would argue that our “worldliness” is at fault for the difficulties endured by family today. They would look to marriage equality, to contraception, to movies, to abortion, and a host of “secular”-driven desires as the reason that families are in crisis.

But I suggest that most of our difficulties stem from the stresses of modern life, and that quite frankly, if families seemed more stable in the past, it was largely due to circumstances rather than love. In times past, families stayed together often because they had no other choice. Women in particular had very limited options should they attempt to leave an abusive relationship. And children were necessities often times in order to secure enough money to pay the bills or to care for the land.

So I see much of what is considered to be “traditional” family life as more the result of need rather than desire.

That being said, we cannot dispute the fact that the daily pressures of life make it difficult for people to deal with the usual ebb and flow of relationships. A difficult situation in the home often proves to be the last straw that can be endured. Whether this is right or not is not the point, it is the truth.

Oddly, those that bemoan the secularism-driven destruction of the so-called nuclear  family, are statistically speaking those most often living in a broken family. The rate of divorce in the bible-belt is higher than in any other group.

But what has this to do with our reading today about Jesus and his becoming “lost” to his parents?

As you recall, the family journeyed to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. As the caravan they were in was returning home, Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found. They returned to Jerusalem, and after three days, they found him in the Temple, conversing with the rabbis there about scripture.

Mary asks Jesus why he would do such a thing.

Surprised at her lack of understanding he asks, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

With this, we obtain a new understanding of family.

Jesus, much as he obeyed and was a good son, knew that his first allegiance was to God. He exhibits surprise that anyone would not realize this. This is his true family, and of course it is our true family.

God and those who espouse God are family in the real sense. Their love binds them more completely than any blood ever could.

And we know that Jesus honors this “family” well beyond biology. Remember when he tells us that his followers are his sister and brother, when he asks us, “who is my mother?” Remember his welcoming to the disabled, the public sinners, and all who were marginalized in his society. Jesus invited them to share in his life and he loved them, and invited them to love each other. He indicated that the hallmark of his followers was their capacity and exhibition of love to all, but especially to each other. It was the hallmark of the earliest Christian groups as they met in each others homes and celebrated the life and teachings of the Master.

Jesus, as a child points us to what is truly important about family. It is about God-centered love. And we should realize that God celebrates our families in whatever fashion we have come to find and  make them. They may not be “conventional” as history shows, but they are REAL and I suspect God finds them all the more worthy and blessed for that reason.

Finally, we are coming to that point when the earth by technological means, is smaller than ever. We truly are beginning to realize that we are all invested in each other, all necessary to the whole, and together we form the incredible mosaic of humanity that reflects the glory of our Creator. We are truly becoming a human family, one that is compassionate, empathetic and willing to reach out to each other, regardless of our superficial differences, in love and care.

God created all that is, and when it was finished, he SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD.

We are God’s family, and God is the center of ours. That is what family is.

Amen.

Joyous Revelations!

Eliz2 The reading today is so familiar to us.

Mary, carrying the Christ child, journeys to her cousin Elizabeth, also with child.

Elizabeth herself is recipient of a miracle, a pregnancy in her later years, and one that had been long given up on, as Elizabeth was thought barren.

So it is of little surprise to her when the miraculous events continue upon the arrival of Mary.

Elizabeth reports that upon the hearing of Mary’s voice calling out its greeting, a number of things happened simultaneously. She became aware Mary had been asked to be the mother of the Lord and that she had obviously accepted. She also was made aware that this was no ordinary child, but the Christ, the Messiah, so long awaited among her people. And while these revelations were washing over her, her own child also became aware that he was in the presence of the Holy One.

What an awful lot to take in at one moment in time!

It begs the question of how we respond to this momentous event.

If you are like me, you struggle to remember just how amazing it was. And that is because it is “old news” to us, especially those of us who are well into our adulthood. We’ve been through this so many times, the stories are so familiar, it’s hard to remember what there is to get so excited about.

Of course, intellectually we do understand. We know that the coming of Christ began our journey of salvation once and for all. Jesus came to teach us the way to relate to our God in a more intimate and more sharing way than ever before.

What I refer to is our emotional response to that knowledge.

And perhaps the best way we can rekindle that amazing event in our minds and see it for the enormity that it was and is, is to recall each of us, a moment in time that reminds us of that kind of joy.

Think to that moment in time when you realized the true magnificence of what  and who Jesus was. Remember the joy and anticipation of your own baptism, how new and shiny bright you felt. How close you felt to Jesus.

Think of the moment when you heard these stories the first time. Think of the awe of the manger, the Magi, the lowing of the cattle. Think of the miracle of this tiny babe, and how God’s love o’er shadowed the event. The coldness of the evening, the darkness of the night, and the brightness of the star that seemed to herald and draw a weary world to gaze in adoration at the evidence of God’s faithful commitment to each of us, in the guise of child wrapped in poor cloth, in a bed of hay.

Think of the thrill you felt upon those first realizations and perhaps you will get a sense of what Elizabeth felt that day so long ago as her cousin walked up the dusty path to her house. The real and the surreal mix and combine in a blur of visions and there is no doubt that God is as close as one’s breath.

Rejoice, for the Lord is in our presence and has come to save the world from itself.

True joy indeed.

True Blessing.

Merry Christmas to all of you and may God’s blessings uphold you.

Amen.

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