Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday: "It's Not Complicated"

A Homily for Good Friday 2015


Have you ever taken the time to read through, let’s say, the Book of Leviticus? In modern Bibles, you often find chapter or section headers that describe the contents of the portion of Scripture you are reading… Starting with Leviticus 1:1, here’s what you find:

  • Procedures for the Burnt Offering
  • Procedures for the Grain Offering
  • Procedures for the Peace Offering
  • Procedures for the Sin Offering
  • Sins Requiring a Sin Offering
  • Procedures for the Guilt Offering
  • Sins Requiring a Guilt Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Burnt Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Grain Offering
  • Procedures for the Ordination Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Sin Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Guilt Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Peace Offering


Okay, I am going to stop there. That’s a summary of the contents Leviticus up to half-way through chapter 7. You pick back up at the beginning of Chapter 11 with clean and unclean animals, and keep going through the highlights of the High Holy Days to the relatively obscure regulations concerning the redemption of property. Twenty-seven chapters, the majority of which consists of regulations for Covenant Life.

There are other laws in the Old Testament which discuss other principals of Covenant Life… but I am not going to spend the next hour introducing you to them. Instead, I am going to share with you something that I think, for some, is a bit of a secret.

It’s just not that complicated.

Not anymore.

You see, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ Jesus is our true high priest. He is able to offer, and has offered – as we just heard – the one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for sin… not just for our sins, but for the sin of the whole world. He came and fulfilled all that had been written of in the Law and the Prophets. He cancels the old covenant, because it has been fulfilled. He truly means it when he boldly proclaims, “It is finished!”

And so, you see, it’s just not that complicated anymore.

To be sure, we are called to live a life based on a clear moral and ethical code as Christian believers; but it is not that moral and ethical code that justifies and redeems us. It isn’t the complexity of our worship. It isn’t the astuteness of our biblical studies, nor is it the vocabulary of our prayers.

Our redemption is secured through Christ Jesus’ righteousness, which is poured out upon us through the gracious, loving, and merciful will of the Father through the working of the Holy Spirit.

In Old Testament practice, the rituals, the laws, all were designed both practically and pragmatically – yes, if you could keep them perfectly, you’d be drawn close to God… but from a pragmatic perspective, nobody could keep the entire Mosaic Covenant. It would up being a death sentence.

You and I, as Christian believers, yes… we will sometimes fail at keeping the moral and ethical imperatives of the New Covenant. But when we fail, we need to assemble spotless animals, proper weights of grain mixed with specified additives, etc. We are simply called to look to the Cross of Jesus Christ, and there to be brought to repentance and renewal in him.

It isn’t complicated…

For the just shall live by faith.

May this day be a day in which, beholding the Cross, our faith is strengthened, and our hope renewed.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holy Thursday

Today, my brothers and sisters, we enter into the Paschal Triduum, and we enter that celebration with this solemn memorial of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Holy Thursday also bears with it many other theological significances. All of them are very important… and yet today, all of them are irrelevant.

On the night before Jesus dies, as he prepares for a final meal with his disciples, he stoops down to wash the feet of those who have gathered with him in the Upper Room. In this act of unabashed humility, Jesus demonstrates in a profoundly personal way what his mission on earth is all about.

On the eve of the ultimate confrontation between good and evil, between hope and sorrow, between death and life, Jesus Christ demonstrates that everything he does is pervaded by a love that knows no bounds. None.

The Creator Word and God of Majesty stoops down with pitcher, basin, and towel to wash the dirty, gnarly feet of his disciples; because for God, nothing is more important that showing that he will go to any length to bridge the chasm that exists between him and his creation by virtue of the fall of Adam and Eve.

In the face of the hatred, cruelty, sinfulness, and brokenness of the world, the Jewish leadership, the Roman occupiers, and yes, even in the face of the Devil himself, Jesus ministers simple service and love and demonstrates them as the means to overcome every obstacle that would stand in the way of a new and eternal life with him.

What more is there to say?

What more needs to be said?

If perfect love casts out fear, then the image of Christ washing the feet of his disciples in one final, personal, quiet act of loving service to his disciples… his closest friends… and even his betrayer! should cast our own fears as far away from our minds as the Father casts our sins from us.

The Foot Washing… simple service in the face of unrelenting hatred.

Let us listen.


Let us learn.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

READINGS

Genesis 37:2-4,12-13,15-28
Psalm 105
Matthew 21:33-46

REFLECTION

Envy and desire often breed discontent. It’s clearly evident in our readings today… 

When the discontent is within ourselves, it’s poisonous. Joseph’s discontented brothers wish him gone; the tenant farmers visit violence and death to the master’s servants, and to his son. 

When the envy is aimed at us, it’s painful. Rejection on the part of Joseph. The loss of a child for the vineyard’s master. 

These behaviors and the kind of greed, lust – really – for power, knowledge, prestige, all have their root in the fall. Even the Flood was unable to completely purge the earth. Given the new beginning we got with Noah, and viewing how his descendants have managed to handle themselves… I sometimes shudder to think what our world would have been like in this day and age without God’s intervention!

At the same time, one could argue that Joseph had it coming to him. He was a favorite, after all; and he didn’t exactly mind rubbing in the faces of his brothers just what God had revealed to him. His father treated him like royalty. Their own actions served to give fuel to the fire that brewed just beneath the surface of Jacob’s other sons… the fire that often brews just beneath our own surface. 

And yet, even with intervention, we are still suffering in a world of injustice, of envy, of malice. We live in a world where the rich decry living wages for the poor. A world where governments have no issue leveling villages, towns, and cities filled with defenseless people with the simple flick of a switch. Our reality is also one in which people believe they have born privilege, as well as one in which those who do not have privilege sometimes take it upon themselves to ensure that they get what they believe is fair… or more.

This isn’t what God has called us to… not at all! But it is the reality we face. And we, as people of God, marked in baptism by Christ Jesus and the Spirit, are called to do something about it. “But,” we may ask, “what can we do… I mean really do?”

To be honest, the question is so complex, it would be impossible for me to answer it directly… though I think that the prophet Micah has some suggestions.  

YAHWEH has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Will we solve injustice, cruelty, suffering, and hatred in the world, in our lifetime? No. We won’t. But we can do our part. We can walk in ways that minister compassion, instead of fostering envy. We can seek to help others, and in doing so, we can help ourselves. None of this is possible, though, without the active and vital participation of the Spirit… and so, this day, let us pray that the Spirit would help us to avoid the pitfalls of envy and of breeding envy in others, so that we may bring dignity, wholeness, and hope to those who so desperately need it, in our back yards… and throughout the world.

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

For those engaged in urban missionary work here in central Indiana,
that they may be given a sense of connectedness to those they encounter,
forging solidarity
and a groundswell of compassion
in the face of homelessness,
substance abuse,
mental illness,
and abandonment,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those engaged in foreign missions,
that differences in cultures and communication styles
would be no hindrance to sharing the message of the living God,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 

For those in positions of civil, economic, and educational authority,
that their primary concern would be for the people their actions effect,
not simply today,
but often for a lifetime,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who foster envy, hatred, and jealousy,
that their hearts and spirits would be turned
through the gracious visitation of the Spirit,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who feel abandoned by God,
that through the work of caring believers,
they may find in themselves the courage
to establish new
and reestablish forgotten ties
with the creator of the heavens and the earth,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the dying as they embark on their final journey,
that they may recognize God’s presence with them in their final moments,
so that, cleansed, forgiven, and fearful no longer,
they may rest peacefully in the promises of Christ,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Hear us now, O Lord, as we bring to you our own personal needs and intentions...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

READINGS
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 16:19-31

REFLECTION

Lent is often times given a bad rap as a time where we rag on humanity. We focus on our failings, our weaknesses, our sinfulness. Our liturgy takes on a more reserved character, we give things up, we talk about the crucifixion perhaps, a touch more – or a lot more – than usual. Critics of the Lenten observance often feel that it’s just a time to trash ourselves.

I’d like to propose that they are missing something. Well, multiple somethings, in fact.

Lent, when observed rightly, is a time of profound balance. Today, in our readings from Sacred Scripture, we are exposed to our fallenness, our need for divine guidance, and the effects of divine guidance in the lives of the faithful. 

Our reading from the prophet Jeremiah, and our Psalm, both emphasize the fact that human wisdom is, essentially, useless when it is divorced from a relationship with God. Jeremiah especially makes the point when he talks about relying on human strengths and turning their hearts away from God. As human beings, we have wisdom… some might call it street smarts. We have an understanding of how things work in the ‘real world’, but when we rely on such an understanding to formulate the way we approach our lives, we fall woefully short of what God wants of us. He does not want us to turn our hearts away from him… he wants to channel that worldly wisdom we have, to temper it with compassion, with righteousness, with eternal truth, and make of us effective ambassadors for his mercy and love in the world around us.

All the wisdom in the world, and even beyond the world, that is devoid of God’s presence is, ultimately, useless. When we have squandered the Spirit, when we have failed to live justly and humbly before God by tempering ourselves, then we are reduced, not simply to being counted among the wicked, but to being truly pitiful.

Such is the case of the rich man in the parable from our Gospel reading. 

Here was a man who clearly had it all, and yet all his earthly wisdom wasn’t enough to save him. Contextually, it’s made clear that this man had some awareness of the Law and the prophets… and yet he still finds himself judged, and tormented by the fact that his brothers (and presumably his extended family) haven’t amended their lives, or subjected their worldly wisdom to the wisdom and the justice of God.

When we consider the kind of life that God wants us to live, one in which we balance our own needs with the needs of others, the message present here becomes clear: our own nature has fallen, it fails us. It leads us to selfishness beyond what is necessary for the meeting of our basic needs. Thus, it is only in God that our human nature can be redeemed and risen from its debased state… and yet it can be redeemed and risen and restored! We can be more than our fallenness indicates. But we can’t do it on our own.

We need God. Thus we need self-discipline. We need reflection. We need renewal. We need it to redeem the world. And we need it to be redeemed ourselves.

May this Lenten season help us to recover a balanced walk, through the working of the Spirit, by the example of Christ, and in the overwhelming mercy of the Father.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

For a deeper realization of our need for divine guidance,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a more complete understanding of the Scriptures we hold dear, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a continual conversion of heart, mind, and spirit, during Lent, and beyond,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For an indwelling of wisdom as we reach out to others with the Gospel message, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a peace beyond our understanding as we contemplate our mortality, 
and as we cope with the suffering and death that is a part of our world today…
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 

For the needs and intentions we bring with us this day…
(silence for personal prayer)
…let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

READINGS
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
Psalm 50
Matthew 23:1-12

REFLECTION

When is the last time you examined your motivations for faith?

In our readings today, we are presented with two stark reminders of the ways that our faith can be motivated, and an indictment of our human nature, which stands in need of faith.

In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel today, we are presented with a powerful reminder of the wrong reasons for faith. We should not be believers for the external show, the power, or the prestige of being a believer. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew their scriptures well, and paraded their knowledge widely, but their righteousness was highly questionable, because their motivations were compromised. Their goal was self-justification… something less than God.

The prophet Isaiah, however, reminds us that listening to God’s law and following it righteously requires the intervention of God. He does not say “Though your sins are like scarlet, you can make them white as snow.” God reserves to himself the authority to cleanse of sin and to fill with the Spirit, a Spirit that produces righteousness as its fruit.

There is a component, of course, for us… we must be response to the Spirit’s work, firmly debasing ourselves of any idea that we, in and of ourselves, can wipe our own slates clean. When we listen to the voice of God, when we follow his commands, when we seek to live righteously, we are empowered to do so by the Spirit, not by ourselves. A righteous life is continually nurtured by the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit.

And so, our God approaches us daily… moment by moment. He is present in each and every aspect of our lives. Why bother to claim his name, or to walk in outward fidelity to him if we have no intent to foster the covenant relationship in Christ Jesus? We must accept the Father’s claim on us, secured by Christ’s blood, and nurtured by the presence of the Spirit… or else all our sacrifices, all our prayers, all our outward fidelity will be as nothing in the sight of Yahweh… for he beholds the heart, not the outward appearances. 

And, when our heart is right with him, and our faith’s motivations rest in our knowledge of our fallen-ness and our need for his presence in our lives, well… in those moments, all things are possible, and eternal joy stands squarely in our sight.

Don’t live, my friends, in false righteousness. Don’t seek the world’s approval. And don’t follow those who do. Walk in faithfulness to the Creator… and he will set you free to serve him with a power that knows no limit!

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

That each of us would take stock of our relationship with God,
and would honestly seek to understand our reasons, motivations, and practices of faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those in positions of leadership in the Church
would seek to minister in humility and love,
not seeking their own glory,
but always preaching the truth, 
whatever the cost, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who have walked away from their faith
on account of the fallen-ness of other believers
may find the courage to encounter Christ again 
and renew their relationship with him on his terms,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who, today, are dying
may divest themselves of all self-reliance,
and entrust their spirits to the one 
who is able to do abundantly more than we can ask
or imagine, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs of our hearts, 
and of those we love, 
would be known by God 
and ministered to through his faithful love…

(silence for personal prayer)

…let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday after Ash Wednesday

READINGS
Isaiah 58:1-9a
Psalm 51
Matthew 9:14-15

REFLECTION

As I was perusing my Facebook wall before bed on Ash Wednesday, I noticed several folks who had proudly posted articles such as "4 Reasons Why I Don't Observe Lent", or "I'm Giving up Lent for Lent". An article on a local news station's website about the local Episcopal Cathedral doing "Ashes on the Go" on Monument Circle had generated 19 comments. Every last one of them snarky repudiations of Lent, fasting, and Roman Catholicism... which is ironic, given the fact that the article was about Episcopalians.

Anyway, the jist of most of the articles is that Lent is just for show, it's works based salvation... that kind of thing. One of the kinder articles listed the following four reasons for why the author doesn't observe Lent:
  • Lent can lead us to focus on giving up the wrong things and leads to a false righteousness.
  • Lent often involves a fast which is frivolous.
  • Lent can wrongly lead people to believe that they can be saved by their works.
  • Lent often becomes ritualistic instead of deepening our relationship with God.
I have to confess... he's right about these cautions he puts out there. Lent can lead to all of these things, and worse. Lent is not something that is to be played around with. It's not a joke... not if it is to be done in a way that is truly God honoring and that will pay out dividends in your own spiritual life.

The writer illustrated his first point, about giving up the wrong things and leading to a false righteousness, with the example of a person who gives up chocolate for Lent by cheats with an ex. He rightly points out that such a practice is quite hypocritical, and is definitely not in keeping with the Gospel. I absolutely agree that sexual purity is of far greater importance than giving up chocolate. But was the transgression caused by keeping Lent? No. It was caused by the sin-nature residing in the individual, a sin nature that such an individual may not have been seeking the power of the Spirit to reign in. That gets back to a key tenant of Lent. 

If we think that Lent is about building our self discipline from our own reserves and willpower, we are going about it the wrong way. Lent needs to be, essentially, a time where we recognize that it is God, and not our own fallen nature, that will strengthen us against temptations... be it to chocolate, or to far more dangerous and sinful things.

This leads to the second observation, about a frivolous fast. Again, the commentator is right, but for the wrong reasons. His thoughts also bring with them a false assumption. First, a terminology check is in order. Fasting means to abstain from food, water, or both. Abstinence means eliminating something (or things) from our diet. When people 'give something up' for Lent, they are abstaining from it. On Fridays, when the fish come out in force in the cafeterias of the land, the reference is that people 'abstain' from meat. Abstinence and fasting are two different animals. Abstinence from, let's say, chocolate for a period of seven weeks is, on the surface, pretty frivolous. Same goes for TV, or coffee, or Facebook.  But there are people who have serious connections to these frivolous things. For them, the removal of these things from their lives for seven weeks is a massive sacrifice. How many of us log into Facebook dozens of times a day? Imagine the time we'd have free for other purposes, perhaps Scripture study or reflection, prayer, feeding the sick... if we didn't spend so much time plugged into the Net. Sometimes, these distractions can overtake our lives. They become reasons for living. The begin to become idols... gods, if you will, in our own lives. Overcoming our reliance, dependence, and addiction (at times) to them is vital for wholeness in life... and it is God who graces us with the ability to walk away and find renewal.

Third, we get into Lent and works-salvation. A few weeks back we addressed this issue, looking at the question of salvation by faith alone, comparing and contrasting Romans and James. As we read, the only place in Scripture where the phrase 'faith alone' is used is in James 2:24 where we are told "we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone." Our actions reflect our response to the God who pours out upon us his grace. When we choose works of faithfulness and righteousness, we do so because we are not refusing God's grace, but are willing to allow his grace to flow freely in our lives. When we choose evil deeds, it is because we are resisting the grace of God. No matter what we do, it is a manifestation of how we are responding to God. The saving work of Jesus Christ is still what brings salvation to us... but we have to manifest a desire to appropriate that work to ourselves, or we are wasting our time. My most compassionate moments of service as a hospital chaplain don't save me. The grace of God does, when I am open to it. If I slam the door on him, and on his abundant gift of grace, I'm exiling myself... and God's grace is not present in that moment.

Finally, of course Lent can become ritualistic. My morning routine is ritualistic. Humans are ritualistic creatures. The issue is not with ritual. The issue is with DEAD ritual. If I keep Lent because I have to - and yes, many people do keep Lent for precisely such a reason, then it's doing me spiritual harm, not spiritual good. Our family relationships can become ritualistic, and devoid of life. How many people do we know who 'stay married for the kids', for example, whose love grew cold years before. If it is all a show, then Lent is useless. 

But you see, the whole point of Lent is missed if we rail against it for all the ways it can be screwed up. Let me, then, summarize what Lent is and can be to you:

Lent is a time of intensive training for the soul. It's a human tradition, an adiaphora (thing indifferent) if you will. We keep it, though it's not specifically commanded in Scripture. It is a time where we join together with other believers in asking God for the strength to continually (not just for 40 days) amend our lives and grow spiritually more resilient.  It is a time where we rightly challenge ourselves, and where we succeed, when we do succeed, by abandoning the self and embracing God as the strength which leads us to overcome our bad habits, our sinful tendencies, and walk in the way of truth.

Lent is a time to lean on the Spirit with a greater trust than you've ever had before, and to transform your life permanently. Alas, we sometimes fail with the permanent part... I know I have. And yet, the good news is that we need not wait for Lent to come around again to pick up on spiritual disciplines and reliance on God. But if we can learn to do it for an extended period, and if we can perhaps continue to build upon past Lents in years to come, Lent can become a time of amazing transformation, setting us up for deeper experiences in our day to day walk with God.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That all who have adopted Lenten spiritual disciplines would learn to trust, 
not on their own strength, 
but on the power and presence of the Spirit in transforming their lives for the better, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel listless or unengaged in their spiritual lives, 
that God's transformative grace would encourage them 
to reconnect with him, and with others, 
as they walk the journey of this life, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel lost in their sins 
might find, in Christ Jesus, 
the sure hope of mercy, 
and the courage to confess and renew themselves in the Spirit, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel overwhelmed in this life, 
as they face critical decisions, 
or walk through their life seemingly alone, 
would recognize the loving care of the Father in their lives this day, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our patients, their families, and our staff, 
that their needs and concerns would be heard with love by God, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the needs dare to speak aloud...
... and for the needs we hold in the silence of our hearts...
...let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday in the Week of Ash Wednesday

READINGS
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Luke 9:22-25

REFLECTION

We face choices daily. Some of the choices are simple: what to eat, and what to wear. Others are more complex: how to handle our household or departmental budgets, what to do about concerns in our relationships.

But there is a third category of choices that we make: choices of utmost concern. In particular today, I want to focus on the choices we make when it comes to faith.

To be certain, walking a Christian life is not a simple matter. The basics of the faith might be easily summarized in a creed, but spouting off random lines from said creeds hardly cuts it when we are asked a question like, "It's surely OK to move some of this money around without telling anyone, right?" Reciting a creed doesn't tend to make an impact when we are presented with an enticement to a sin we enjoy far too much. I mean, when is the last time that a glutton stopped and recited the Apostles' Creed as a 'weapon' against eating that entire deep dish pizza that they just ordered? Creeds are great. Liturgy is wonderful. Scripture is powerful... but the three are effective only to the extent that we have allowed the Spirit to use them to reprogram our fallen nature. 

In our reading today from Luke's gospel, Jesus gives the crowd a choice - turn away from selfishness, take up the cross daily, and follow him. He clearly calls us to abandon any vestige of our lives that would drag us back into slavery to sin and death. This is in keeping with our Psalm too. Those who walk in the way of God's laws find joy and hope. They find peace. They have made a choice that bears life, and they are contrasted with the wicked, whose choices lead to death. 

Moses' words in our first reading are even more stark: You've got a choice - prosperity or disaster; life and death, blessings and curses. Your actions, your embrace of the Spirit, your following in the lead of God will determine the outcome. 

All three of our readings today extend to us an affirmation of free will. But it's important to remember that our free will is compromised by the fall. In Proverbs 14 we are reminded: "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death." In fact, the phrase is so important that it's repeated again, two chapters later. Our free will has been marred by the fall. Our base instincts fail us, and respond in kind with this sinful world in which we live. We don't like to be reminded of that fact, but it's true. The world, and its inhabitants, are no longer in the state that God created them to be in. Emnity, hostility... both were foreign to God's plans in creation; but yet, because we were created in his image, we had to be created with a will that was truly free, even free to fall. And yet, while our wills today are in bondage to the havoc that the Enemy caused in the fall, the prevenient grace of God, and let me define that for you in case prevenient is a term you've never heard of: it means the grace that precedes or 'goes before'  —that grace which precedes human action and reflects God’s heart for his creation. It testifies to God’s being the initiator of any relationship with him and reveals him as one who pursues us. The words of the prophet Joel speak eloquently to this grace: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all people... In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike." (Joel 2:28a, 29). 

We are fallen, unable to save ourselves, unable even to reach out to God without his Spirit, and yet we are also fully accountable for our choices, and our choices have the power to change our lives, here, and hereafter. Sound like a contradiction? Well, I hope you're comfortable with contradiction, because sometimes, that's the way God works - using seeming contradiction to illustrate the faith which we hold. I think he does so, because we exist as contradictions. We were created in the image and likeness of God, and even in our fallen state we still bear that image and likeness, and yet we are fallen and far away from God. How's that for contradiction! There is a tension that exists in our faith between seemingly exclusionary concepts. Some can be easily explained, but others, like the balance between free will and our fallen nature, are far more difficult. I'd say that frankly, even the greatest theologian's attempts will fall short, because no matter what we do, we are still trying to explain the heart of our God in human terms, and he operates far beyond our limited vocabulary.

Suffice it to say, for today, that we cannot save ourselves. We must lean completely and totally on God to do that for us. And yet, as his word teaches, we are accountable for our choices, and he sends us the grace that 'goes ahead' of us to enable us to choose rightly. Next time you're faced with a situation that has the potential to lead you into sin, to rupture your relationship with God, instead of trying to recall the intricacies of the faith, a simple cry of your spirit to the Holy Spirit, "HELP!" might be far more beneficial. 

During this Lenten season, may we make it our goal, daily, to implore the Father to send the Spirit to us in unmistakable ways during times of decision-making, especially when our decisions are being made in difficult or tempting situations... so that, in the days to come, we will be more resilient when faced with the choices of this life, and comforted to know that Christ is preserving us through his passion and his power, unto life everlasting.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That the leaders of the Church
may consistently proclaim the mercy of Christ,
not just during Lent,
but day by day,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the hearts of those burdened today by difficult choices
would call upon the Spirit to help them choose life, prosperity, and blessings
in the midst of a world whose wisdom
would often lead us to disaster and death,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That our minds may be so firmly rooted in the faith
that our cry during times of trial and temptation would be for the Holy Spirit's help,
and not for the pleasing of our own base instincts and desires,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who struggle with feeling unforgivable
and unworthy of love
may find, in the suffering and resurrection of Christ,
the eternal message of worth and redemption
that brings salvation to all who respond to the calling of the Spirit,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our patients, staff, and visitors,
for our own families and friends,
and for the special needs and concerns that we bring with us this day...
... let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

READINGS
Joel 2:12-17
Psalm 51
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6,14-18

REFLECTION: "Taking Out the Trash"


Perhaps I am stretching things a bit, but does anyone remember last year's Ash Wednesday homily? Do you recall the topic?

(Last year's homily may be read at this link)


No takers? Last year, we discussed the concept of Spring Cleaning, comparing it with the practice of cleaning for Passover in a Jewish home. You'll perhaps recall that leaven is routinely used in Scripture as a symbol of sin, and that it is vital to Jewish practice that all leaven be out of the house and, frankly, off the property of a Jewish family before the sunset that marks the Passover, which begins the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.


Now, one thing I didn't really discuss last year is what they do with all the leaven. 

Generally, in this day and age, the leaven is tossed out on the curb in the trash can, taken away by the garbage man. In some places, the final bits of leaven, especially those that the children are sent to find just before sunset, are burned outside and the ashes buried. Dishware and Cookware that are not to be used for Passover are still cleansed, but they are locked away and don't see the light of day for the whole week. 

That said, It's not unheard of for some individuals to engage in elaborate agreements in order to be free of leaven for the week of the Feast, and take it all back again at sunset on the final day. Those making such accommodations will write up a deed for all their chametz and will then 'sell' it to a Gentile through their rabbi for a token sum. Then, after the Feast, they buy it back through the rabbi, and take their stuff home. Granted, the Wonder Bread is probably going to be moldy by the time it makes it back to the dinner table, but the yeast packets, baking powder, boxes of crackers, and all the other goodies with leaven are still perfectly usable and in the same condition as when it was sold off.



When we look at these two contrasts, and we recall that leaven is equated with sin, we should pose ourselves a sincere question... which practice do we want to emulate? Selling and buying back the chametz is, in Orthodox circles, a perfectly acceptable practice. But the practice is, in essence, doing the minimum. All that leaven returns to you, nothing really changes - except that, for a week, you don't have the use of it. If leaven represents sin, is this really the path we want to take? Or, perhaps more importantly, is it the path that we hope and pray that God wants to take?

My brothers and sisters, we call today to a God who promises to remove our sins "as far from us as the east is from the west." (Psalm 103:12) Because our world is a sphere, you can run west and keep running forever... you'll still never run out of west. God promises to cast our sins away from us at an infinite distance. He will 'remember them no more'. (Isaiah 43:25). Yet many of us still, effectively, buy back our chametz.


Sometimes, we do it because we want to appear holy, but don't want to make the real sacrifices necessary to forsake sin and deepen our relationship with God.

At other times, we find the chametz we though we left behind... we come across it by chance. And because we haven't sent it away for good, we find it far too easy to revel in it.

Admittedly, there are times where the proverbial trash truck has started down the road with our spiritual chametz, only to see us run after the truck and pluck the bag out of the hopper before it can get onto the main road. Yes, even with the best of intentions, sometimes we crave our sinful nature... and will go to great lengths to recover it.

But the most damaging way that the leaven of sin undermines us, my friends, is when we fail to accept that the psalmist is right in saying our sins are put away... when we refuse to believe that Isaiah's words 'He will remember them no more' are true. We refuse to let go, because we believe that we can never be forgiven... that our own sins are so horrid, so terrifying, so filthy that God could never, ever, ever forgive me.

Beloved... today is a day, though wrapped in signs of mortality and penance, that should give us great hope. Today is a day that speaks to us, in Word and at this Table, of mercy, or forgiveness, and of peace with God and with one another. Do you understand that? I mean really? Do you understand that? Do you know in your heart that  "if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness"? (1 John 1:9)

DO YOU BELIEVE IT?


If you do, then I beg you to confess your sins... and I also beg you, with absolute earnestness... let go of them for good. Don't buy them back after Easter. Don't suddenly forsake yourself and sell yourself back into slavery to your old sins, sins you have rightly confessed and laid at the feet of the Savior. Don't surrender to the gnawing doubt that might say to you, "God can't possibly forgive me!"

The cross of Jesus Christ stands as eternal proof that God WILL forgive all who turn to him with faith, whose hearts are impelled by the Spirit to rightly confess and lay their sins at his feet... and then walk away.


So, today, I urge you to take out the trash. Leave it in the can. Don't even bother to watch the garbage collector pick it up... and certainly, don't follow it down the street. Don't seek to get it back, don't give it a second thought... 

And finally, when you have trouble with this precept... I am here. Your own pastor is available to you. Seek out those of us who have been called to minister the healing and the reconciliation of God in Christ in a unique way. Don't feel that you have to journey and struggle alone, because you don't!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Genesis 2:18-25
Psalm 128
Mark 7:24-30

REFLECTION

Today we come to the conclusion of God's creative act, as told in the second chapter of Genesis. Man has been formed from the dust, but no matter what God brings forth in this man's presence, nothing is quite the right fit to be his companion. I'm sure that the first Fido might take some umbrage at that fact... but I digress. The perfect compliment to the masculine is the feminine. In Scripture we see concepts of the feminine used to describe God's love. Matthew 23 and Luke 13 both tell of the event where Jesus compared the love of the Father to that of a mother bird who gathers her chicks under her wing. Wisdom, which is used frequently in the Old Testament and is often in Christian literature cited as a personified in Christ Jesus, is directly addressed in feminine tones in passages such as Proverbs 8:22. If you head into the Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament, you find even more references to Wisdom in the feminine. Even the name Ruach HaKodesh, the Hebrew term for the Holy Spirit, has a feminine nuance. I could go into some detail about this, but it gets long, technical, and, well, boring if you're not into Biblical linguistic scholarship. It's not light reading. Suffice it to say that it's well documented historically and in Christian history. I don't often say this in a sermon, but, in this instance, trust me... it's there.

For God to create for the Man a helpmate, a companion, a friend, well... it makes it a natural that the individual is feminine. It balances the masculinity of the Man, it more fully draws out the full nature of the Godhead for all to see. In the creation of Man and Woman, the full image and likeness of God is made manifest in a tangible, living way among God's creation.

It should come to us as no surprise that many women were among those, in both Old and New Testament times, who recognized God's wisdom, his grace, and his power, and that they went on to boldly proclaim it. Miriam, the wife of Moses at the time of the Exodus, rose her voice in song to praise the deliverance of the Israelites. Certainly Deborah, the female Judge, comes to mind... as do the examples of Boaz, Ruth, and others. And who can forget examples like the Syro-Phonecian woman from our Gospel today... Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe... Mary Magdalene... and the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. God works in and through the lives of women moment by moment, day by day, and has done so throughout the history of the world. He will continue to do so, even until the end of time.

There is a complimentary nature in the dynamic that exists between the masculine and the feminine, both in the Godhead, and in our human race. Sadly, we exist in an era that sometimes seeks to blur those lines... and in doing so, it does a disservice, not simply to our earthly lives, but to our understanding of the Godhead.

Now I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about women holding positions of leadership and authority here...  I'm not making a case for the barefoot and pregnant camp, if that's where you think I am going. What I am talking about is a growing lack of recognition of the special, and beautiful complimentary relationship that God desires between men and women in the ongoing life of the human race. 

Men are guilty, and have been for far too long, of undervaluing the contributions and voices of women. We like to talk about the women who have influenced us, but males tend to be influenced and groomed by men, and females by women. And this trend can go both ways, though it does seem that males are predominantly more guilty of this trend than females. Speaking of marriage in particular, voices and needs of the woman are to be of paramount importance to the man... and man's needs to the woman. Just as a caveat, I am not saying that a woman who is bleeding out should stay at home and entertain the man's needs as opposed to going to the hospital... I am speaking of a general deference towards one another that must exist as a foundational element of a healthy, vibrant, and godly marriage. When the two become 'one flesh' and exist in harmony, they are a living expression of the unity of the Godhead's male and female attributes, just as much as they are a living expression of the relationship between Christ and his Church.

A marriage so founded is one in which there is no shame, for there is nothing to cover up. The fact that the author of Genesis turned that little phrase at the end of our first reading about shameless nakedness is telling. The account of Ham seeing Noah naked, taken together with the rest of Scripture's witness about nakedness is clear: what was once pure, holy, and untainted with selfishness has become an occasion for an excitement of the senses, one in which the originally created order between man and women experiences a rupture. When the male and female relationship exists in harmony with God's created order, there is no shame... and the balance between the masculine and the feminine in this world becomes a true reflection of God's nature, which is what the human race was created to be.

This is not, however, to be read as an indictment of those, male and female, who do not desire marriage... or who feel called to lives marked by celibacy. God has clearly made it known that singleness and celibacy are ways of life that he blesses when it is good and right for the individual involved and their relationship with God, their mission, etc. It only becomes a problem when those so called fail to embrace the feminine or the masculine voices and experiences of their peers as true reflections of the human condition, as situations in need of addressing, or as, yes, at times burdens that they are called to equally bear with their male or female counterparts.

Ultimately, the message I want you to walk away from today's readings with is that each of us, male and female, are both called to reflect certain elements of God's nature, and that without one another's voices, experiences, and companionship, we become, at least a bit, impoverished... something less than God wants us to be.

And that's something we should strive to avoid... for if we don't, we'll have a very hard time understanding and embracing God as revealed in the pages of Scripture, and in the life of his faithful people from age to age.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That the leaders and institutions of Christ's Church would value the voices and experiences of all her children, both male and female, as they seek to live in fidelity to the Gospel in the midst of this ever-changing world; let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That married couples would rejoice in the unique gifts that they bring to their unions:
those they bring from their personal experiences,
as well as those which are rooted in their masculine and feminine traits;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That men and women who are single
might find meaningful and lasting friendships with others,
so that any sense of isolation may warded off,
and so that the rich diversity of the masculine and the feminine
may be a part of their lived experiences;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who despair over their own personal sense of identity
may find, in God, a deep sense of purpose and meaning in the Creation narrative,
and that, through Scripture,
they may seek out what God is calling them to in life;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.  

That those whose children are sick, suffering, and dying,
may be comforted by the presence of God,
 and encouraged in their time of trouble;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the prayers of our hearts,
and the prayers we speak aloud,
may rise as a pure and holy incense before the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth...
... let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17
Psalm 104
Mark 7:14-23

REFLECTION

Perhaps you've dieted at some point in your life. I don't mean establish a regular food plan to maintain weight and optimal health, I mean the kind of diet where you considered yourself overweight, decided you needed to do something about it, and put together a plan that would allow you to reach your goals. Perhaps you made it up on your own, perhaps you cobbled it together from a book or two, and perhaps it came from your doctor.

Generally, in such instances, the first few days are really exciting... you're doing this new thing, and you know it's for a great goal. Then things begin to get more difficult. Hunger pangs begin, you miss your favorite foods, the chocolate bar that someone else in the office is eating for a snack is calling your name... and their waistline doesn't seem to have moved since middle school. UGH! The diet becomes difficult, but if you've ever had this experience, and then stuck with it through the trouble, if you chose to cling fast to the ultimate goal, you may have experienced the relief and the profound sense of joy that comes from recognizing that you truly do have what you need, and that you need not worry about all the temptations. You settle into a sense of assurance and awareness of what you are doing, and - at least for a time - all is well; and you are truly content.

In his work of creation, God has truly given us all that we need... and yet, sometimes, it becomes difficult for us to be content. We see so much in the world that is deeply appealing to us. We see beautiful homes, nice cars, good food, great films. We are exposed time and time again to pop culture, advertising, and peer pressures that attempt to form our views on what we want and need. Sometimes, this happens because people genuinely believe it, and other times, it's simply to make a profit; but our culture is never, it seems, happy with people who are content with what they have.


God wishes us to know contentment. He sustains us, as we hear in our Psalm today. His sustaining power is perfect... it touches us, when we are open to it, in every way that is truly essential for our spiritual well-being. In creation, God intended for that sustaining work to go further, but in the rebellion of our first parents, the openness to his sustaining power evaporated, just as a puddle on a hot summer day.

In Christ Jesus, we have been called back to the sustaining presence of the Father, and to a trust that he truly knows what is best and right and holy. When our minds turn to thoughts of fulfilling our own desires, often times they degenerate into precisely the kind of thoughts that Jesus highlights in our Gospel today. When we find ourselves discontented with our lot, when our lives seem empty and baseless, our thoughts tend to become base, selfish, and yes, sinful. We want all kinds of things for us... because we're not in that place where living the Christian life has become easy - at least, not at that moment. We're in that phase of the 'diet', so to speak, where we suddenly become hyper-aware of what we're missing out on... where our stomachs begin to growl because our mind is calling out to fill the emptiness we feel at that moment.



Just as it happens in dieting, so too such occurrences creep up in any disciplined activity... workouts, our jobs, family relationships, and yes, in our faith-walk. As Christians, we are called to walk away from evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness... and yet, at times, they seem so appealing! 



I'll tell a lie here to get out of consequences of the truth. 

It's OK for me to coyly check out that girl - or, for the ladies in the room, that guy! - who's so hot because it isn't like I'm going to do anything about it. 

Sure, I'll let them think I am taking care of this issue in my office, even though it's actually Jane over there in the back cube. 

The list goes on and on... 


The problem is, when we engage in such behavior, we don't simply sin in the present, we foster the very discontent that society, advertisers, and yes - let's call the root culprit - Satan, would have us wallow in... and that discontent can lay a powerful incentive at our feet to fall further away from contentment with our lives and, ultimately, that can move us toward deeper sin and a complete rupture in our relationship with God in Christ.

May God grant each of us the grace to truly examine ourselves, recognize in God the source of true hope, peace, and blessedness, and allow us to walk in faithfulness today, and every day, until that final day when we are called to our heavenly home.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That those in leadership in Christ's Church
would model lives of humility, faith, and joy
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who serve in positions of civic trust
would seek to work towards the fulfillment of the needs
present in the lives of those they represent
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who find themselves weighed down
by committed sins or through lack of hope
would find in us,
and ultimately in God,
the strength to turn away from all that entraps them
in lives that are less than they could and should be
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who silently suffer
from lack of food, shelter, safety, and love
may be brought to rejoice in the kindness of God
made manifest through the work of those in our community
who seek to reach out with their loving hands
let us pray to the lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who, today, have received difficult diagnoses,
or the prognosis of death,
may find in Christ's atoning death
the hope of everlasting life
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs we hold in our hearts,
and the needs we dare to speak aloud,
would be ministered to
through the compassionate goodness of our heavenly Father...
...let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Genesis 1:20-2:4a
Psalm 8
Mark 7:1-13

REFLECTION

Yesterday we began reading from the Book of Genesis. Because Lent starts next week, we'll pick up Genesis again in after the Easter Season concludes. Since we're in the Book of Genesis, we're starting with the account of creation... and boy is that a touchy topic these days.


About an hour and a half from here, there is a museum dedicated to understanding the Genesis account as literal history. I've been there. It's well done.

About fifteen minutes from here, on the campus of Butler University, a national campaign to teach evolution in Churches has its headquarters. They make some persuasive arguments.

And sadly, I've come to the conclusion that they've both missed the point.


The Genesis account lays out for us an overview of the process of creation:

Existence of the Physical Universe begins on Day 1.
Separation of Waters on Day 2 - the waters up there and the waters down here.
Land and Vegetation emerges on Day 3.
Astronomical bodies are created on Day 4.
Fish and fowl are created on Day 5.
Land animals and, ultimately, the human race, is created on Day 6.
God rests on Day 7.

Some aspects of this narrative are reconcilable with today's scientific theory about the development of the earth and the origin of life. Others are not. A big bang on day 1 is just fine. Vegetation appearing on Day 3 before astronomical bodies to 'power' them on day 4 seems off... unless we're counting cosmic microbes among the vegetation. Days 5 through 7 generally agree with what science today proposes.

But is the Book of Genesis meant as a scientific textbook? Well, no... that's not its literary genre. Trust me... I've read scientific textbooks. They're pretty boring in comparison. And I enjoy science! Okay, in fairness, I enjoy astronomy and meteorology, but even textbooks in those areas are quite static and, well, boring. The Creation Narrative of Genesis is alive, active, and vital... it is seeking to convey truth.

For example, the doctrine we today call the Trinity is founded in the very first chapter of Genesis. In our reading today, we hear "Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us" and not "I'll make human beings in my image, to be like me". Our human nature is reflective of God's pre-existent nature. As fully revealed in Christ Jesus, that means we are a creature of mind, body, and spirit... reflecting the Father, Son, and Spirit as confessed in Scripture. The three elements have their own nuance, but the three are one, inseparable, and indivisible.  When we are formed in the womb, all three elements are present, from the moment of conception. They remain united until one of the three elements is irretrievably destroyed... at which time the body and mind cease to function in our conventional sense, but the spirit within us goes on. 


No Genesis... no Trinity. No Trinity, no unity of our multi-faceted existence. Chaos would ensue. 

Now, let me be clear for a moment... I am not attacking Creationism here. I believe that God can be taken at his word, and that he, indeed, created the heavens and the earth exactly as he described. But, if that is the message we take away from Genesis 1, oh my, have we really missed the boat.

When I say that Genesis isn't a scientific textbook, what I mean is not that it is incorrect - though, undoubtedly, some would start attributing to this kind of sermon an allegorical interpretive position on the matter. My core point is that Scripture is much deeper that simply the content of the words it shares, or the order in which it shares them... for Scripture reveals to us the heart of God, from the beginning.

Perhaps (Yes, I am willing to admit it!) Genesis 1 and 2 aren't literal history... but even if they aren't, they still reveal the love and concern that God had for his creation, even before he began the work of bringing it into existence. 

I am not ashamed to stand on Genesis 1 and 2 as literal history. I am also not ashamed to admit that it is altogether too easy to get prideful over the matter. Let's forsake the pride, preach the deep truths contained within the text, and move forward towards the day when all things will be renewed in the one who formed and created all things, our Holy Triune God, who lives and reigns beyond the bounds of even the universe he has created. 


PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

For a deeper understanding of the worth and value of each human being,
and for the preservation of human dignity and respect
from conception to natural death,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the courage to delve deeply into each portion of Scripture,
those portions which are easy to understand,
and those which are more complex,
that we might more fully understand who we are
and what we are called to be in the sight of our creator,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the patience to recognize
that we may never receive full understanding of God's complexities in this life,
and the faith to accept that such a lack of understanding is OK,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the development of an insistence on calling to the Spirit,
that we may be led by God's truths in our lives and in our hearts,
even when the wisdom of the world would call us
to do things or approach our beliefs or problems in another way,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the wisdom to accept
that, at times, our own biases hinder us
from a deeper understanding of God's word,
and the willingness to set them aside under the guidance of the Spirit,
that we may drink more deeply from the Word of God,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our own needs and intentions...
...and for the needs and intentions of those we love,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.








Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 10:19-25
Psalm 24
Mark 4:21-25

REFLECTION: "Jesus is the Measure"

We live today in a world with competing systems of spirituality. Each one has its own claims, its own priorities, its own distinctive aims. In that respect, Christianity is no different. 

At the same time, Christianity makes a specific claim that no other faith makes. To paraphrase Jesus' own words, Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that nobody can come to the Father except through him. 

This means that no other spiritual tradition, no matter how lovely or moving, is capable of serving as a vehicle for the atoning power of Jesus Christ. Christianity is unique.

To be sure, our faith shares some of the same practices as other belief systems. We worship. We meditate. We read sacred writings. We revere those who have gone before us. But, for the Christian, this occurs in a way that is unique, because it is all enlightened by Christ.

Through this enlightenment, Christ enlightens us, and empowers us to serve as a light for others. But sometimes, unfortunately, in the name of 'tolerance' and 'getting along', we sometimes gloss over the uniqueness of Christianity, surrender to the inter-religious narrative that 'all religions are simply seeking the same God in their own way', or allow the secular jibe that 'all religions are the same' to go unchecked.

As bearers of the Light, we are called to be extremely sensitive and caring towards each and every individual we encounter. We are called to meet the where they are. We are called to learn and understand their situation, their beliefs, their viewpoints. We are called to walk side by side with them... but we are never - NEVER - called to hide the light we have received.

No guru, no matter how convincing, can take away our guilt forever. No parapsychology practice can give us eternal peace. Even our own common religious practices will fail us if our light is burnt out or covered up. You see, light is a metaphor for the presence of the Spirit in our lives. When the Spirit is with us, our path is illumined to discern right from wrong, spiritual truths from quakish counterfeits. When we hide our light, even because we think that doing so makes us more 'kind' and 'compassionate' to people who do not share our beliefs, we do ourselves a disservice. And, frankly, we do them a disservice as well. We begin or deepen our relationships under false pretenses. We do not bear true witness to who we are and what we believe. 

Now, to be sure, this doesn't have to be in your face. I'm not speaking of that. I don't walk into every patient room, every meeting I attend, every situation in life and say, "Hi, my name is Rob. I'm a Christian, and you should be too." But I also strive to discern situations in which the light I have received should be used. How it should illumine a situation. I equally seek to determine what kinds of practices are antithetical to my Christian confession, and do my best to avoid them.

I'm not always successful. I'm certainly still a sinner, saved by grace. I still need a fresh infusion of the Spirit day-by-day. I need to be reminded constantly of the uniqueness of Christ Jesus, of his sacrifice, of his promises. I need that for my own personal relationship. I need it to be an effective preacher. I need it to secure my heart for priestly ministry. I also need it to ensure that I am balancing proper witness and respect in all aspects of my life.

Friends... you need this too. The world is filled with sincere people who are not Christians. They deserve to be treated with respect and integrity. But the world is also filled with plenty of spiritual fakes; and we must discern them and exclude them from our lives; lest they become baskets over our light. 

You see, putting a basket over a light is dangerous. 

If the basket is woven tightly enough, it may snuff out the flame from lack of oxygen.

If the basket is loosely woven, it will catch on fire, collapse atop the flame, and after a wild, fast burn, will reduce the basket and the lamp into cold, dead ashes.

This is not what Christ wants for us.

In our longing to behold God face-to-face, let us make use of every spiritual tool at our disposal to grow and develop our relationship with God in Christ Jesus; and let us rightly discern what makes for a spiritual tool, and what makes for a destructing influence in our spiritual lives.

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

That the Church would always shine forth brightly
in witness to the Good News of Christ Jesus;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That Christian leaders would equip the flock
with the spiritual tools they need
to deepen their relationships with God;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That we, in our daily walk,
would find just and honorable ways
to balance a respect for others
and the integrity of our professed faith;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel their lights dim,
who find gusts and breezes to be aiming at their lamp,
or whose faith has been snuffed out
by spiritual frauds
or the pain and hurt of life
may be protected,
encouraged,
and rekindled,
through our loving-presence,
and through the power of the Spirit;
let us pray to the Lord;
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the sick,
the broken,
the grieving,
and the dying
may, even in their moments of deepest darkness,
find the consoling warmth of the Spirit to be inflaming their hearts,
constantly kindling faith, hope, and love within them;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all of our personal needs and intentions
would be received by God who reigns in everlasting light...
...and that we,
trusting in his goodness,
may see in our lives the fruit of our prayers;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 10:1-10
Psalm 40
Mark 3:31-35

REFLECTION: "Show Me Some Love"

Today we commemorate Fabian of Rome, an leader of the early Church who, after taking steps to organize the Church to survive persecution, found himself at the wrong end of the executioner’s determination during the reign of the emperor Decius. Some might argue that death, and a brutal one at that, at the hands of the government isn’t any kind of love to show to a faithful servant. 

Of course, one could say the same thing about Jesus’ words concerning his family, especially his mother, in our Gospel reading today.

Recently, in one of those internet discussions (okay, Facebook, specifically) that is probably best left alone, an individual posited that Mary was not special, and didn’t deserve to be remembered with any regularity in the Church. She was Jesus’ earthly mother, nothing more. And what passage of Scripture was proof-texted to make the point… Yea, you probably already guessed it… our Gospel reading from today.

In our passage, Jesus’ family, including his mother, are outside, asking to see him. And Jesus proceeds to give the ultimate dis to his mother… putting her in her place. After all, she’s quote the upstart. He probably heard her say, “all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48b) while he was in the womb, and was just looking for the day when he could lay the smack-down on her oversized ego.

That may be the narrative that some would seek us to believe, but in doing so, we miss the entire point of the passage.

In Scripture, Christians are repeatedly called adopted children of God. We are made a part of the family. On what basis? Doing God’s will. If we follow in his pathway, we are grafted into the family… we become a part of the work he is doing in ministering his redeeming grace to the world.

When follow in faithfulness with God’s will, we should find joy in doing so. That joy comes from knowing that God draws close to us… he is the one who ultimately privileges us by allowing us to come to him tenderly, as our ‘Abba’.

This also means that God is raising us up… far from slamming Mary and his brothers, Jesus is instead showing us his desire to lift us up and exalt all who bear his name as members of his family. We have the inheritance of Mary, and of all God’s beloved, ahead of us… joy, hope, and peace forever in Christ Jesus.

Sometimes, though, being faithful involves suffering, pain, and yes, even death. But such costs do not separate us from the family… from the love that is made known in Christ’s perpetually pled sacrifice. Even today, the Eternal Son stands, pleading the one perfect sacrifice before his Heavenly Father… just as he did in the days of Fabian.

And, just as Fabian could draw confidence in that fact no matter what travail faced him, we can as well… for Jesus still reigns, to the glory of God the Father.


PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That Christians everywhere
may be led by faithful pastors,
instructed by caring teachers,
and loved within the community of faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those charged with leadership in the Church
may be strengthened in their faith,
even unto death,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all of us would view our fellow Christians
as members of our own family,
showing love and forbearance to them in every circumstance,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who are deeply fearful,
on account of a recent diagnosis,
uncertainty in life,
or the prospect of immanent death,
might find in us
and in others who bear the name of Christ,
ready companions on their journey,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs which we bear in our minds and hearts today
would be touched by the gentle power of the Spirit,
and lifted through the mediation of the Savior
before the Father who reigns on high…
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle

READINGS
Acts 4:5-13
Psalm 23
1 Peter 5:1-4
Matthew 16:13-19

REFLECTION: "Stupid is as Stupid Does"

No less a luminary than Albert Einstein is quoted as having defined insanity as: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Tom Hanks, playing Forrest Gump in the 1994 movie of the same name expressed a similar theme with the famous words, "stupid is as stupid does".


So, shocker, in our first reading today, we encounter the apostle Peter, at a point not too long after Pentecost, already courting the very same religious leaders who sent Jesus to the cross, confronting them with the Gospel and, essentially, daring them to believe, or to take action to eradicate them.

Now, Jesus had come and spread his Gospel across the land, and, within the span of three and a half years found himself hanging on a tree. Why on earth would Peter have expected any different reception of the Gospel a mere six or so months later (if that!)? In and of itself, such an expectation is plain stupid... but taken with the absolute intransigence that the religious authorities demonstrated repeatedly insofar as Jesus was concerned, Peter's conduct borders on the insane.

Or does it...


Contending for the truth is never insane, at least not in the conventional sense. Insanity implies a lack of rationality. Of course, there are those who would mock Christians for abandoning rationality and exchanging an evolved sense of logic for 'fairy tales'. Next time you hear someone speaking sarcastically about the 'Flying Spaghetti Monster' or asking in that kind of serious/mocking tone (you know what I mean) about your relationship with 'Our Lord and Savior Cthulhu', you can pretty much figure that you've met someone who would take a similar position, at least intellectually, to your beliefs as the religious leaders did to the faith of the Apostles.

So what makes Peter's situation, and by extension ours, any different from those who abandon rationality, and who believe that we are all the offspring of aliens, or that all vaccines are a government conspiracy, or that Barack Obama isn't really an American citizen and, thus, isn't qualified to be president? 

The difference is faith. In specific, it is the summary of faith that Peter confessed in the presence of Jesus under girds, or at least should under gird, every aspect of our lives. Our every work and witness should confess, with Peter that Jesusis the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. No matter how significant the act, or how insignificant the word, whatever we do must have, at its core, a Christian identity and perspective. True, at times we are going to fall short of that ideal, our faith at times waxes and wanes... we become fearful or we withdraw at times. Peter knew all about this. And yet, no matter the strength of our faith, no matter how we may, at times, try to avoid it, Jesus is always there and ready to forgive and renew us, just as he did with Peter after his resurrection.


There is another difference... one that is found rooted in the Spirit. We are given the grace to approach life with boldness, knowing that what we believe is true. We believe it because of the witness of Scripture, the witness of blood in the martyrs of the Church - including Peter, and in the witness of the countless lives changed over nearly two-thousand years of Christian history. Yes, the Jewish religious authorities and Roman civil government could kill a man, but the Spirit raised him to new life, and enflamed with that new life those marked by the name of the Risen One. 


And with every new life formed in the waters of baptism, and through the sealing of the Spirit, there once again echoes out the cry of Peter... "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God".

This is the faith that makes Peter rock. And, when we profess it, it makes us rock as well. This is the faith of the Church. It is a sold, dependable faith. It is rock. And, as we hear in our Gospel, the Gates of Hades will not conquer it. To put it plainly, this faith will never die.


And that's just as it should be, because - worldly rationality aside - we serve a Savior who will never die again... one who assures us that our death is simply the birth into a new life, if we are found solid on rock.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That the leaders of the Church may serve,
not out of a sense of self-entitlement,
or with a desire for personal recognition,
but with the truth in their hearts
and the needs of the people foremost in their minds,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the people of God may cling to the solid rock of faith,
forever professing Jesus as Messiah,
and reaping the strength that comes from their profession,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who oppose the the faith
based on false information,
or who ridicule believers for fun,
may have their hearts touched by the gentle presence of the Spirit,
and moved to understand more deeply the mystery of faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the young and the old,
the educated and the simple-minded,
may with one heart profess the faith that saves with earnestness,
in spite of every obstacle presented by religious leaders,
civil governments,
or those who would terrorize them and demand that they give up their faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the needs and concerns of our hearts...
that, as people of faith,
we may be confident that the Messiah is interceding for us
even now before the Eternal Throne,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.