Friday, May 17, 2019

Epistle and Gospel Texts for Sunday 19 May 2019

Acts 11:1-18        Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, `Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 

At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, `Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." 

John 13:31-35
At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."

Reflection        Something new is happening because the home of God is right here, right now, in this place, dwelling in us. The home of God is among us givers and takers, winners and losers, sinners and saviors, guardians and oppressors, star-gazers and pragmatists, Republicans and Democrats and none of the above. We are all born on a single white sheet let down in the heart of God. God is with us, all of us, and makes no distinctions.

This is really hard to swallow so we seek our friend Jesus’ counsel during our last supper together asking, “How can we live like this?” Jesus answers, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another…”

Isn’t it interesting, Jesus does not find it necessary to spin extensive commentary about what to believe? Not a word about the hypostatic union of his dual divine and human nature, no mention of the essential ousia of his being in God.  Jesus merely shows us how to live, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.” This is the difference between orthodoxy, right belief,  and orthopraxy, right behavior, right living. 

Orthodoxy gives us propositional statements of faith or doctrine to believe and profess in order to be identified with a particular religious group. Orthodoxy defines us and them, who is in and who is out. Orthopraxy shows us how to live in right relationship with God and with all people, making no distinctions.  Everyone is in. Orthodoxy slices and dices and makes things complicated. Orthopraxy cuts to the bottom line.

There is a story in the Talmud, a central teaching text in Judaism, about two rabbis and a gentile (non-jew). The gentile comes to the rabbis and says, “I will convert to Judaism if you recite the entire Torah while standing on one foot? The first rabbi turns beet red, he is infuriated. “What are you thinking? So who could do such a thing?”  And he stomps away enraged. The second rabbi balances on one foot and says, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbors. That is the whole Torah. So the rest of it,  is commentary.”  The gentile is immediately converted. (Starr, Mirabai, “God of Love,” p110)    Let me suggest, this is the something new. The new song,  the new creation and it is not complicated.

The new, old thing is orthopraxy, returning to the first century Jesus movement and learning to love without distinction.  So let me ask you, can you recite the entire scripture standing on one foot? If you can, the world will be converted. 

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 12 May 2019

John 10:22-30        At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one.”

Reflection       Thanks to the brave guerilla fighter Judas Maccabee, in the year 166BCE the Temple building is restored to holiness, the center of Jewish worship is intact. Still, two hundred years later in John's gospel text the Jews  are looking for the Messiah, the king or high priest who will lead them to a happily ever after life. Lately many of them have seen and almost all of them have heard about the man Jesus, the inscrutable prophet who touches and heals, teaches with authority, forgives unconditionally, offers hope to all people, and at the same time he is irreverent, hangs out with all the wrong folks,  violates  Temple traditions and discredits the orthodoxy of the elite religious and political authorities. 

The Jews are not sure what to make of Jesus. So when they see him  “walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon” they ask him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” But Jesus’ speech is anything but plain. Of course, they do not understand. They cannot hear the deep meaning of Jesus’ words.  They cannot see that Jesus embodies the temple, the new way of worship in Spirit and in Truth. (John 4.23) I believe this is what Jesus was alluding to earlier in John’s gospel when he drove the vendors who were selling sheep and cattle, doves and money out of the Temple and said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2.19)      

From our privileged point of view two thousand years later, we know Jesus is not talking about a superhero’s brick and mortar magical building plan.  Jesus is talking about his own body, all of our bodies, as the new temples of God, the new places of holiness. And, Jesus did not make this up.

From the very beginning we hear in one of our Genesis creation myths God speaking, “‘Let Us make humankind in Our image, in Our likeness’…. So God created humankind in God’s own image…” (Gen 1.26-27) Like Jesus, all of humanity is meant to be the dwelling place, the temple, the image of God. The contemporary theologian and wisdom bearer, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks cites Leviticus in which “The Lord says to Moses: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, ‘Be holy because I, the Lord, your God, am holy,’” (Lev 19.1-2) and  goes on to explain, this is the first time such an all inclusive command from God is resolutely articulated. Sacks writes, “It is life itself that is to be sanctified…  Holiness is to be made manifest in the way the nation makes its clothes and plants its fields, in the way justice is administered, workers are paid, and business conducted. The vulnerable – the deaf, the blind, the elderly, and the stranger – are to be afforded special protection. The whole society is to be governed by love, without resentments or revenge.”*

Sacks calls this “the radical democratisation of holiness.” Prior to this communication between God and Moses the Jews understood the place of the Temple to be holy and only certain designated holy people, the priests, had access to it. So this is a great re-turning point in our human story,  an expanded understanding of our relationship with God and one another. We are all meant to be holy, to be temples of the living God, which means all people are to be dignified and cared for, at least as well as we care for our temples, our churches, our homes. 

As we remember the Festival of the Dedication of the Temple shall we rededicate our selves, our souls and bodies as the new temples of God? Shall we reaffirm our commitment to dignify and care for all people as well as we care for our brick and mortar homes, churches and temples? 

* Rabbi Sacks blog  Covenant and Conversation, 8 May 2019

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Friday, May 3, 2019

Acts of the Apostles for 3rd Sunday of Easter, 5 May 2019

Acts 9:1-20        Saul,  still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the  Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God.”

Reflection       Several “I found God… or God found me” cards could be written from this scripture in the Acts of the Apostles.  Saul might write, “I was going about state business, on my way to Damascus to round up annoying subversives who are following the Way of that agitator Jesus when out of nowhere the most bizarre thing happened. It was like a flash of light, it blinded me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" When I asked, "Who are you, Lord?”I heard, ”I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” My life has never been the same.” 

Then we turn over Ananais’ God card and read, “God called to me in a vision and I answered, “Here I am,” then God instructed me to go to that evil-doer Saul of Tarsus who has been beating and binding, even killing good people who follow The Way of Jesus. It was really hard for me to go. I was afraid and did not want to have anything to do with that tyrant, but, I decided to put my faith in God and felt surprisingly strengthened and encouraged, so I went, laid my hands on Saul, who had been struck blind. His sight was restored and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Amazing. I never would have imagined that evil Saul would turn away from murdering our people and receive baptism into the family of God.” 

Saul starts out as a faithless man whose actions are taking him further and further away from God, ”breathing threats and murder against the followers of The Way.”  And so God dramatically breaks into Saul’s rabid consciousness by striking him down, overwhelming him and rendering him helpless, like lightening striking a tall pine tree.

By contrast, Ananais, a disciple of Jesus whose actions draw him ever closer to God,  has a vision, a quiet, interior experience in which he is called by God. Ananias hears his name and responds, “Here I am Lord” and proceeds, not without trepidation, to act in accord with God’s instruction. With Ananias the Spirit of God enters his consciousness gently, like a droplet of water dropped falling onto a sponge.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus whose Spiritual Exercises are the heart of Jesuit spirituality, encourages us to find God in all things and  teaches the discernment of spirits to help us understand the way the Spirit of God moves within us. For a person who is moving further and further away from God, the  Good Spirt of God breaks in either by stingng our conscience with pangs of guilt and waves of anxiety or dramatically upsetting our consciousness. The latter is what happens with Saul who has been going from bad to worse, persecuting God and followers of God. 

For people like Ananias who earnestly seek to be in right relationship with God and other people, the Spirit of God operates in the opposite fashion; by subtly giving insight, courage, strength to act on behalf of God for the good of others.  

Back to our story. As soon as Saul stops “breathing threats and murder” against God, the Spirit of God proceeds more gently through Ananais’ healing touch, restoring Saul’s sight and then baptizing him. Saul  is filled with the Holy Spirit. Once Saul turns toward God, he experiences God’s presence more like water dropped onto a sponge than lightening striking a tree.  

Most of us, most of the time, are oriented toward God, which means, the Spirit of God will arise in our consciousness in subtle, nuanced ways. Only rarely do we experience lightening bolts, unless of course, we are not paying attention or we are wandering away from God. 

How have you experienced the Spirit of God moving in your life? Gently? Overwhelmingly? 

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Friday, April 26, 2019

Gospel Text for 2nd Sunday of Easter 28 April 2019

John 20:19-31        When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Reflection       I have no idea if our sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka who came together in three Christian churches to worship early Easter morning had any fear that they would be murdered for gathering to worship, peacefully celebrating their relationships with God and one another.

I have no idea if our sisters and brothers who came together for Friday Prayer just a bit more than a month ago in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand,  had any fear they would be murdered for gathering to worship, peacefully celebrating their relationships with Allah and one another. 

I have no idea if seven months ago when our sisters and brothers assembled on the Sabbath morning in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg peacefully honoring their covenant relationship with God and one another had any fear they would be murdered.

The exterior appearance of peace was shattered in Sri Lanka, Christchruch and Pittsburg. Christians, Muslims and Jews alike were massacred for practicing their faith. Our reasonable and first impulse is, run, find an upstairs room where we can shutter the windows, lock the doors and keep evil out. But, like the apostles in our reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, we cannot remain in hiding. “We must obey God rather than any human authority” that “gives strict orders not to teach” or practice an alternate reality revealed to us by Abraham, the father of all three traditions. We must continue to gather, worship, study and spread the good news that there is something greater than the evil perpetrated by misguided humans, and, regardless of what we call it, it is that in which we must put our faith. 

Now it is evening of the first day of the week. Much has transpired to frustrate our faith and hollow out our hope. The tragedies we have witnessed are too dreadful for words. Our hands and feet and hearts are wounded, blood pours from our mouths where words fail to flow. Catastrophe is our companion… and then, in the midst of the darkest hour we hear the voice of our teacher echoing in our hearts “Peace be with you.” No matter the blood of his wounds is still fresh, Jesus’ voice is comforting. Like a fragrant cloud his breath infuses us,"Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus’ message is unequivocal. Peace is with us, and we are meant to extend it to others. 

Crushed in the gloom of the locked upstairs room with the terrorized apostles, we are doubtful. “Jesus, what are you thinking? How can you promote peace after being nailed to a cross? How can you speak of peace when across the globe people of all three religions are purposely persecuted?  What do you mean, peace be with you?”

Can you almost hear Jesus’ admonition? “Peace is not the absence of unmerited suffering. Peace is not the avoidance of bleeding wounds or the evasion of tragedy. Peace is holy Presence with us in the midst of all of it. See - put your finger here, deep into my wounds. Pain and trauma are real, they are inescapable. Still, we can choose peace right now because, like Abraham our forefather, we put our faith in God with us even when the promise of peace seems impossible.” 

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Hebrew and Gospel Texts for the Great Vigil Saturday 20 April 2019

 Ezekiel 36:24-28         Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 
Luke 24:1-12        On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Reflection        In his book “Befriending Our Desires,” the Jesuit priest Philip Sheldrake, S.J. writes, “Ecstasy is a moment in which some otherwise distant reality is glimpsed as here and now and at one with oneself.” (p 85) Standing at Jesus’ tomb Mary Magdalen, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women experience an ecstatic moment. They are at one with Divine Presence and have a glimpse of the distant reality -  right here and right now. Today we stand in Jesus’ empty tomb with the faithful women and experience a glimpse of the distant reality -  right here and right now, we are at One with the Divine.

I have never seen an angel nor have I heard a booming voice from heaven. But once in my prayers I had an experience of Jesus that was more real than anything I have ever seen with my eyes or touched with my hands. In my heart of hearts I heard Jesus say, “Follow me.” And I stepped behind him. He said, “Come closer.” And I did. And he said, “Closer.” And I answered, “If I come any closer I will step on your heels.” And he said “Closer.” And I stepped into Him and vanished, except I wasn’t gone. What was gone was my sense of separation. I couldn’t see him anymore. I couldn’t sense where I ended and He began. I just knew that He was closer to me than my own breath and that I was so close to Him that there was nothing between us.

I tell you this story because many of you also have stories - stories of how you have been touched by God - and unless we tell our stories we are not living out our lives as the apostles sent to share the Good News.  You see like Mary Magdalene and the other women our stories are meant to be told and retold as reminders that God is not dead. God is alive and with us  - risen right now in our hearts of flesh. 

This is resurrection; our current and ongoing awakening into new and transformed life. You see Jesus did not come to bulldoze the Roman Empire and bury the religious officials in order to rescue regular folks like us into some future utopia. Jesus came as a common man whose on the ground ministry to the sick and rejected gathered a movement of ordinary folks, people whose hearts were broken open and whose spirits were renewed by Jesus’ message of dignity and hope for all people. But the political and religious operatives of his day were threatened by Jesus’ revolutionary message and the crowds he was gathering because it challenged the status quo (read - the officials positions of power and privilege).  So, the authorities counted Jesus a criminal and crucified him between two other criminals. 

Jesus does not protest. He allies himself with the least, the last and the lonely, the broken, the betrayed and the alien, all those ordinary people like me and you whose vision of dignity and hope for all people pose a threat to the status quo. Even though Jesus’ revolutionary vision leads to his brutal execution, his Spirit cannot be extinguished because it rises again and again and again in the fleshy hearts of humankind.  

On Easter we join Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women pondering Ezekiel’s words in the caverns of our hearts, “… A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh…” This is resurrection life. It is not put off for some distant time. Resurrection is now. We are the people of God because the Spirit and fleshy heart of Jesus is resurrected within us again, and again and again, always,  and right now.        

                Alleluia Christ is risen…. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!  

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Passion Narrative for Sunday 14 April 2019

Luke 23:1-49        The assembly of the elders of the people rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him."
Then they all shouted out together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him." But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent." And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Reflection        Last Sunday during our forum on Jewish and Christian Values one of Rabbi Helen’s M’kor Hayim congregants asked, “The second commandment instructs us to make no graven images or idols of God. How does that fit with the crucifixes we see in many Christian churches and homes?” A great question especially as we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem this Holy week and the image of Jesus nailed to a cross looms high above us. The question gave me pause and reminded me of an experience I had when assigned to a field education parish as a first year seminarian.

The church was an ultramodern building nestled in a sumptuous Marin County residential setting.  Passing through a lush garden, mesmerized by the water music of a fountain mixed with the fragrance of perennial  blossoms I was stopped dead in my tracks as I passed through the sanctuary doors and came face to face with a twenty plus foot contemporary painted wood sculpture of a Mexican/Spanish styled Jesus nailed to a cross, hanging in the chancel, high above the altar. Thankfully no one else was present as I am sure my gasp was audible.

“Oh dear. How can I be in this place? How can I gaze at this enormous dead Jesus every week?” Looking for a place to escape, I anxiously searched the sanctuary. It was stark, no ornament except the regnant crucifix. After a time my eyes settled on a line of seats mostly hidden in the shadows far below the imposing sculpture. I actually felt my breath release as I realized, it would be on one of those seats that I would sit with the grand graven image well above and behind me. “Thank you God.”

It took several months for me to screw up the courage to ask the rector, my supervisor, how he could live with the daunting sculpture of dead Jesus reigning sovereign from on high above his head? He paused for awhile before responding. “Hanging there above us is a constant reminder of what we humans are capable of at our worst. We should never forget our potential for evil, the killing of innocents, all the ways we do so by our actions and inactions every single day.” And that reframe turned me around. 

We are not worshipping the mangled body of a god and thereby violating the second commandment. No. We contemplate the unsettling sculpture of love crucified to remind ourselves how easily we turn away from good, misuse our position, power or privilege, then either willfully or unwittingly execute evil and elevate it to regal heights. No wonder we do not like to look at the vexing sculpture of an innocent man’s dead body nailed to a cross. It brings us face to face with an inconvenient truth. Just like the crowds of people who follow Jesus as well as the religious leaders and public officials, ever so easily we too can be swept up in the emotional fray of a moment, we too give way and  shamelessly wheel around from following good to executing even the most innocent among us, we crucify love.

Too often I catch myself in the rear-view mirror hurrying on my all-important way rather than pausing to offer a handful of help and hope to the neighbor or stranger whom I fail to love as I love my self. Far too often I leap past disconcerting news stories rather than face the horrors that are happening just a few miles south of my comfortable home. No, I do not worship a graven image, but far too often I make an idol of myself; fashioning my security, my safety, my esteem,  my power, and my control into five demanding deities and crucify love. How about you? Lord have mercy upon us  and incline our hearts to keep your law. 

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Hebrew & Gospel Texts for Sunday 7 April 2019

Isaiah 43:16-21
Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honour me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

John 12:1-8      Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Reflection       In response to one of the most fundamental questions we humans entertain, “Why am I here?” St. Ignatius of Loyola puts it this way in the First Principle and Foundation of his Spiritual Exercises.  “God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls. God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose.” In other words, we are meant to be in relationship with God and to use the things of the earth to articulate our relationship. Which of course means, when we use the things of creation for any purpose other than pointing toward God, we confuse ourselves and conceal God’s presence.

Although Mary of Bethany (not Mary the mother of Jesus nor Mary Magdalene), whom we meet at a dinner party given to honor Jesus, although she lived more than fourteen hundred years before Ignatius, Mary rather considerably embodies the wisdom that Ignatius espouses.  Watching carefully we see Mary holding nothing back. She pours out perfume worth a full year’s wages to anoint her dear friend Jesus. Fearless in the face of love, Mary defies taboos, daring to let her hair fall freely and wipe Jesus’ feet in an act of extravagant praise, reverence and service.  In every way Mary uses the things of the earth to articulate her relationship with Jesus.

What if instead of storing up our riches, we poured them out extravagantly for the love of God and all of creation?  What if we chose to imitate Jesus by fulfilling our purpose so clearly described in Isaiah’s scripture, “  to bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…?” (Is 61.1)  What will it take for us to stop clinging to “former things, or perseverating over “the things of old?”  What will it take to let our proverbial hair down and perceive the new thing… God with us and with all people?  What will it take for us to be as bold as Mary and hold nothing back? to give our lives, to praise, reverence and reveal God’s holy presence? 

Returning to the wisdom of St. Ignatius,  “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God's deepening God’s life in me.”

This is the kingdom of God, already not yet. Do we dare to emulate Mary, audaciously pouring out all that we have and all that we are to divulge the secret that is hiding in plain sight … God is with us, already and not yet?

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