Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 17 February 2019

Luke 6:17-26        Jesus came down with the twelve apostles and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, 
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, 
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Reflection       Jesus has just come down from the mountain where he had been praying and chose the twelve whom he named apostles, ones who are sent forth. Then Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “Blessed are you when you are poor, or hungry or weep or people hate and exclude you.” 

What does he mean, to be blessed? To be blessed is to be made holy. To be holy is to be sanctified or set apart, purified, redeemed and made happy. For those of us who commit to love Jesus more dearly and follow Jesus more nearly (and be sent out to continue his work) the promise is, even while in the  midst of suffering the holy abides with us, thus we are blessed, no matter what.

Then Jesus reverses course and declares, woe to you who are rich, full, laughing and when people speak well of you. Woe is an interjection of grief, “Oh no…!” When we are on top of our game and the world seems to be in our pocket, we cannot cling to things of this world therefore, woe will inevitably befall us. Oh no, inevitably our good fortune will fade. 

In his sermon on the plain Jesus directs us to break out of our dualistic categories of right and wrong, good and bad, woe and blessing.  When seemingly bad things happen we have reason to hope and be holy. When seemingly good things happen we have reason to grieve.  Could this be Jesus foreshadowing St. Ignatius of Loyola’s insight that in the midst of desolation is hidden the seed of consolation, the promise that all will be redeemed and restored to holiness when we choose “with God life?” Likewise, tucked away in the heart of good fortune (consolation) is the seed of desolation because we cannot cling to fortune, inevitably it will pass?

The beatitudes poetically acknowledge our ever changing human condition. No matter who we are, we endure suffering, injustice and loss as well as fulfillment, joy and gain. Although we prefer to gloss over it, we are all subject to adversity as well as to advantage, we all are vulnerable to change. What makes the difference in how we navigate the good times and the bad is whether or not we set our hearts to love Jesus more dearly and our feet to follow Jesus more nearly. Navigating the vicissitudes of life with Jesus, we are blessed no matter what. 

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 10 February 2019

Luke 5:1-1        Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Reflection      On Monday morning when I read Jesus’ words, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people,”I burst into tears. It turns out tears are my way of falling down at Jesus’ knees because for weeks I had been fretting. The church leadership and I have been fishing for months and years now, still our church does not grow. We have studied church growth and development manuals, we have refined our practices and repaired our nets. And at the end of the day we still have the same number of people standing on the shore. Like Simon I am tired and wonder, what is the point of fishing.

But Jesus shows up, in our text and in our lives. He is right next to us, in our little boat and he has promised. “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” 

It is time for us to leave our fear as well as our favorite fishing strategies behind and follow Jesus. Casting our nets into deep water is a metaphor for making a radical decision to set aside our dependence on our  social cultural context to define who we are. Rather than having our identity affirmed by our loyalty and conformity to particular social cultural groups or networks (pun intended),  it means, we find our identity with Jesus, in our “with God” life. Finding our identity in our “with God” life gives us the courage to venture into the deep waters; it gives us the strength to cast our nets into the dark depths; it gives us hope for the ‘big catch.’

Walking through Luke’s parable we watch as Simon Peter gradually moves into deeper relationship with Jesus; first noticing Jesus in the distance, then watching as Jesus draws near, letting Jesus onto his boat, sitting next to Jesus and taking in his words, pushing back against Jesus (we have already fished these waters)  before submitting to Jesus’ invitation to cast his nets into deeper waters, witnessing the unbelievable catch of fish which moves Simon Peter to awe and humility, “Go away from me Jesus…. this is too big, I am not worthy of this,” until, fortified by Jesus’s pronouncement,"Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people,” Simon Peter is able to leave his old way of being and follow Jesus. 

Where do you find yourself in this parable? Are you fishing and pulling up empty nets? Are you standing on the shore and listening to Jesus from a safe distance? Are you wrestling with Jesus, not sure you want to let go of the way things have always been and venture into deeper waters? Are you terrified by Jesus’ promise of unspeakable abundance for all? Are you horrified by your failure to believe Jesus’ promise of overflowing hope? Are you willing to put down your old ways and find your identity in your “with God” life? Are you willing to follow Jesus and fish for people? 

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Luke 4:14-21        Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 

Reflection        When we consider the broad sweep of Jesus birth, life, ministry, suffering and death we cannot help but notice how consistently Jesus respects the value and uniqueness of each person he encounters. In all that he says and all that he does Jesus intends to actually fulfill the commands of the Hebrew tradition in which he is steeped; the commands to give priority to his relationship with God and the care of the most vulnerable people whom he encounters. But how is he able to do this? I believe the answer is at least twofold.

First and foremost, Jesus embraces his dependence upon God, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” which means he finds his deepest truth and direction in relationship with God; “the Spirit has anointed me… has sent me…” Second, Jesus acknowledges his call to action, “to bring good news… to proclaim release… to set free…” In other words, Jesus chooses to act to fulfill the prophet Isaiah’s scripture.

The question before us today is, “How are we living in imitation of Jesus?” Are we affirming our dependence on God? Do we find our truth and direction in our ‘with God life?’ or are we motivated by desire for  security, safety, attention, esteem, power or control? Are we making  choices and living our lives to share the good news of God’s blessing for all people or are we recoiling in fear and treating others, especially strangers, foreigners and the most vulnerable, as enemies?

Like Jesus we find ourselves in a world fraught with brutality, greed and misuse of power. Like Jesus we have choices to make as we face new and unforeseen situations. So we ask, “How did Jesus navigate the turbulent waters of his life on earth?” I believe he did so by first affirming his dependence on “the Spirit of God with him” and then by consistently acting to extend the good news of  freedom, healing and blessing to all, and especially to the most vulnerable. 

Jesus was not a philosopher, not a theologian. Jesus was an activist, a social reformer choosing to fulfill the Hebrew scripture that informed his life.  Jesus embodied the fundamental values of the Law and the Prophets and, in his summary of the Law and the Prophets, Jesus gives us an action plan. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10.27)

The demands of life are constantly changing. The needs of folks around us continually turnabout. But, the values that undergird our faith are enduring; given to us in the Hebrew Law and the Prophets and epitomized in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Act decisively to embody the Spirit of God with you; extend your hand to deliver care, comfort and relief to the most vulnerable; stand with Jesus and proclaim, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Christian Testament Text for Sunday 20 January 2019

1 Corinthians 12:1-11        Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Reflection        The other day one of our parishioners was in my office because she noticed a need that exists in our church and she wanted to fill it. Elaine gave me permission to tell this story. You see a couple of hours prior to a memorial service Elaine, a member of our flower guild, arrived at church with Sunday morning altar flowers. The thing is, she arrived at the same time as the florist who was delivering altar flowers for the memorial service, flowers which the deceased’s family wanted to remain at the altar for the Sunday service. Now Elaine goes quite a bit our of her way to prepare our altar flowers and so she was a bit confounded and reasonably asked, “Why was the flower guild not notified that flowers were not needed this Sunday?” 

Having no excuse I averred, “I dropped the ball. I am very sorry.” At which point Elaine could have bristled and walked away in a huff. Instead she noted, “Looks like you need help.” “That is for sure.”

Days later Elaine was in my office reviewing a checklist she created for making sure every eye is crossed and T is dotted for Memorial Services. Elaine recognized the need for a ministry at Apostles and now she is our Memorial Services Coordinator. But, that is not the whole story. As our meeting drew to a close Mojo saw the opportunity to steal a few strokes from Elaine who mentioned as she left my office, “I think it is about time I get myself a small dog.” Exit Elaine.

Almost immediately the phone rang. Claudia Tate, a bit out of breath blurts out, “Do you know anyone who wants a very sweet small dog?” It is a good thing Claudia kept talking about how her daughter Kendra  found the dog because I was speechless and already in route to catch up to Elaine and hand the phone to her. Before the day was over Elaine adopted and bathed her new four-legged friend, Angel.

Why do I tell this story today? Because our text from 1 Corinthians is about Gifts of the Spirit.

Gifts of the Spirit are understood as charisms, grace that is freely given for a purpose. We tend to think that we have to figure out, “What is my gift? my charism?” And maybe to some extent that is so. However,  the real question is, “What need exists in my church, my family, my community that I may serve?” You see, the gifts of the Spirit are given as needed, PRN. Identify and decide to serve a need and we will have the gifts required. Whenever we choose to align our will in the will of God by recognizing a real and worthy need we will be given whatever gift or grace is needed to accomplish the aim; wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, giving, discernment, administration, doing works of mercy. All of these are actions that make the Spirit of God visible in the the world through our cooperation.

Elaine recognized a need exists in her church and offered to serve. There is no doubt she will be given whatever gifts she needs to accomplish that aim. And not only that, she is given more than she asked or expected. Elaine received her Angel!

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Baptized into generous desire... hOlybytes: Gospel text for the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 13 ...

hOlybytes: Gospel text for the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 13 ...: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22         As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether...

Gospel text for the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 13 January 2019

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22        As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection      If you are willing, please close your eyes, or leave them open and imagine it is a warm afternoon, you can feel the sun on your back as you stand a bit apart from a crowd of folks gathered near the prophet John, who is knee deep in the Jordan river. You can see sunlight sparkling on the droplets of water dripping from John’s wiry beard. You can not quite hear what John is saying, so slip a bit closer. Intrigued by what is going on you venture to the river’s edge and watch as one at a time people step into the river, approach John who ever so gently holds them as they lean back and are submerged in the cool water. Something stirs inside you. Before you know what you are doing, you find yourself stepping into the river and feel the cool water rising from your ankles to your knees. Now, kneeling in front of the prophet you draw in your breath at the same time you feel his strong hands supporting you as you lean back into the water. All goes silent as the water envelops your entire body. Almost out of breath, you break through the water and rise into the glittering sky. From the depths of your heart you hear, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

How might we respond? “Wow! Am I hearing things?” Or possibly we would be paralyzed in silence thinking, “Surely this is not really happening. I cannot speak of this or others will think I have lost my mind. “ Or maybe we attribute it to “something I ate.” Or perhaps we let the vision go straight to our head and we sizzle,  “Aren’t I special! I heard God tell me I am the beloved. I must really be something great.!”

Perhaps that’s why the prophet John speaks of baptism by the Spirit and fire. Maybe the fire John the baptizer mentions has to do with tempering the Spirit? Maybe baptism by fire has to do with separating the wheat from the chaff, breaking the shell and getting rid of the hard edges of our human minds and personalities. You know, that of our human condition which is tempted to think of our selves as special, as equal to God and to interpret our experiences with the motive of increasing our personal gain or net worth?

With that in mind it makes sense that  almost immediately following his baptism while “full of the Holy Spirit” (4.1) Jesus was “led into the wilderness and tempted by the devil.” (4.2) Three times Jesus was tempted to identify with or test God. He was tempted to use power for personal gain or to exert it over people to enhance his position. All three times Jesus chose instead to be humble, to rely on words he learned from the Hebrew scriptures to respond to temptation rather than be seduced by promises of personal position, power or privilege.

This is baptism with fire... the fire of temptation that refines away our creatureliness, the fire that transforms our avaricious appetite for power, privilege and personal gain into generous desire to be in right relationship with God and one another.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Gospel text for Feast of the Epiphany 6 January 2019

Matthew 2:1-12        In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, 
"In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’"

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reflection        This is the Feast of the Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas during which we receive the sum of all the possible gifts.
12 drummers drumming
11 pipers piping
10 lords a leaping
9 ladies dancing
8 maids a milking
7 swans a swimming
6 geese a laying
5 golden rings 
4 calling birds 
3 french hens
2 turtle doves and 
a partridge in a pear tree.

When  we add up all the gifts during the twelve days of Christmas we discover 364 gifts are given - one for each day of the year, except Christmas. Why? Let me suggest that Christmas is the day we receive the gift that surpasses all gifts. The gift of return to innocence, innocence as represented by the newborn child wrapped in rags and tucked into a feeding trough.

Epiphany is a dramatic and unmistakable realization that something that really, really, really matters is going on.  It dawns on us that something more, something worth seeking that reason fails to satisfy, initiates our journey. And so we join the wise men seeking the meaning, value and benefit represented by the innocent newborn.

What do we find along the way? Potentates who strive to use the wise men, or us, for their personal gain (think Herod calling the wise men to his court), manipulating people with their invitations to positions of privilege and promises of worldly gain. We find rulers who are willing to misuse their power to exterminate anyone who threatens their command (think Herod ordering all boy children in Bethlehem under the age of two to be killed).

Throughout history wise men (and women) have traveled vast distances to seek something more than worldly powers can offer. I believe the wise ones are seeking the true gift of Christmas, innocence. Innocence like that revealed to us in the newborn wrapped in rags in Bethlehem, the gift of Christmas that surpasses all others is the meaning, value and benefit of innocence.

Something deep inside us stirs when we watch our children’s Christmas pageant and sing “O little town of Bethlehem.” That sweet nostalgic sense is our yearning to return to the empty, open, receptivity of innocence. This is the unsurpassed gift of Christmas, a gift born on the breathe of an infant, drenched in the love of God and unsullied by the travesties of time. Innocence.  And because we are innocent as the newborn wrapped in rags and tucked into a feeding trough we are open and available to receive all of the gifts of the Spirit.

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