Friday, September 25, 2020

Epistle for Sunday 27 September 2020

                                  Ruth Bader Ginsburg         

                 March 16, 1933  -  September 18, 2020

Philippians 2:1-13       If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God 

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave, 

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself 

and became obedient to the point of death-- 

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name 

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend, 

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord, 

to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Reflection       Wednesday morning while staring at my computer screen, hot tears carving a watercourse across my chin, witnessing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s flag swaddled coffin preside from the top of the Supreme Court steps, the question that rattled my mind is this. 

                                                    “What makes a person great?” 

Even in her death the greatness of Justice Ginsburg crushes cinderblock with lace. On Friday we witnessed best another quantum leap, Justice Ginsburg, the first woman to lie in state in the United States Capitol. As Paola Fuentes Gleghorn writes in an online Sojourner’s article (September 24, 2020),  “…many of the things I take for granted began with (Justice Ginsburg’s) work. As a woman, I can have a credit card in my name, open a bank account, and buy a house through a mortgage without a husband's signature. I can also inherit land, and I am protected from being fired if I become pregnant, none of which was possible for every woman in the United States before the 1970s.”  Almost all of these rights can point to the 1971 case in which Ginsburg argued and convinced the “Supreme Court that the 14th Amendment made discrimination on the basis of sex unconstitutional.”

Please consider this. Although the title justice is a noun referring to a person who presides over a court, I would argue that in Ginsburg’s case it is also a verb. For English majors, a transitive verb, one that is directly attached to a noun. I believe great people are people whose deepest truest values inform their actions and transform lives, their integral value is their title and their tithe. Justice Ginsburg embodies justice, just actions born on the back of her battles for dignity and opportunity for all people.  

Great people live great values, values that rattle like beans inside a dried gourd, values that play the person from the inside out.

We are all meant to live great values, values that inform us from the inside out. Which of course means, we are all meant to be great people. Clearly, not every great person has the status and stature of Justice Ginsburg. Still, there is no getting around it. We are all meant to be great people, living great values that rattle us, shake us up and move us from the inside out.

Here is the thing. Lives lived from the inside out, informed by values that rattle our core, mean we are sure to face adversity. Justice Ginsburg was no stranger to adversity. Her mother died of cancer one day before her high school graduation. As a young wife and mother her husband Martin was drafted for two years. Shortly after he returned and they were both enrolled in law school, Martin was diagnosed with testicular cancer. What did Ginsburg do? She attended both his and her classes, kept up her husbands work and ranked at the top of her Harvard class while law school officials derided her for taking a man’s place. Justice Ginsburg’s battle for dignity and opportunity for all people was both personal and transpersonal. It reached from the inside and rattled the outside because great people live great values that move them from the inside out. 

Here is what Justice Ginsburg has to say to all of us, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” 

Acting deliberately to insure dignity and justice for all people is the way we embody our core values, values that should rattle us from the inside out, values that inspire compassion and sympathy and attract people to join us. Let us never forget, our core value driven actions do not incite anger and violence nor inflame divisiveness and destruction.  They cultivate consolation, cohesiveness and compassion. 

Most of us will never climb the steps of the United States Supreme Court but that does not let us off the hook. We are meant to be great people living great values. We are meant to follow in the footsteps of great people like Justice Ginsburg and Jesus, people who found their title and made their tithe by aligning their lives in the will and the work of God. 

By our actions we honor the legacy of Justice Ginsburg and Jesus. What action will you take this week aimed at procuring dignity and opportunity for all people? Please share a comment to let us know. 

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join you.”

Friday, September 11, 2020

Epistle for Holy Cross Sunday 6 September 2020

 Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Reflection       Jesus’ decision to enter Jerusalem, host a farewell supper with his closest friends, and allow one of them to betray his whereabouts to his persecutors is not a personal decision. He does not act to insure his security, safety, esteem, power or control. Jesus’ action is not personal. It is transpersonal.

An individual who operates with a transpersonal mindset is one "in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind…..”*  The transpersonal perspective is integral and undivided, it recognizes and honors all of humankind as interconnected and interdependent.

Jesus is operating from a transpersonal perspective. Standing surely in this inclusive view Jesus is faithful to truth as he knows it. He claims his nondual birthright as the son of humanity and the son of God. Political and religious officials call this treason and blasphemy. Jesus calls it truth. He is willing to  give up his life rather than give up his truth. 

Right about now you may be thinking, “That is great for Jesus but what does it have to do with me? Jesus’ capacity to seek justice and love unconditionally is unparalleled. I cannot compare to that.”

Wait a minute. Can you hear Jesus’ words to the disciples challenging our smallness? “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” (John 14.12) 

I believe we humans have set the bar too low. As it is with every generation, we are meant to exceed the good done by those who have gone before us. “How,” you ask? Fortunately St. Paul has a succinct instruction for the Philippians and us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” 

What is the mind of Christ? It is the transpersonal point of view that sees every person and all of creation as sacred, interconnected  and interdependent. Furthermore, the mind of Christ compels action aimed at what is right.

When Paul counsels us to put on the mind of Christ, he is imploring us to grow beyond our small self’s demands that we strive to insure our personal needs for security, safety, attention, affection, power and control. He is admonishing us to live as Christ lived; engaging life from a transpersonal perspective, patiently and practically taking care of other peoples’ needs, even to the point of sacrifice. 

Which brings us to a perplexing paradox. When we sacrifice for the good of others, we lose nothing. We are not debased or shamed. Rather, we are stretched beyond the ordinary bounds of human understanding, we are raised into the transpersonal experience of glory, honor and triumph. 

This is the mystifying paradox of the cross. When Jesus allows himself to be bound, nailed and raised up on the cross he is not raised to shame and humiliation. He is raised to glory, honor and triumph; he ascends to victory and proceeds to breed hope in our hearts.

We have set the bar too low, made ourselves too small. What if we stood in our place with Jesus and claimed our birthright as children of humanity and children of God? What if we raised our sights to transpersonal heights and  doubled down on our commitment to action aimed at what is right, even when it means personal sacrifice? What might our world look like then?

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1 Walsh, R. and F. Vaughan. "On transpersonal definitions". Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Vol. 25, No2, pp. 199-207, 1993.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Hebrew Testament text for Labor Day, Sunday 6 September 2020


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 38:27-32

So it is with every artisan and master artisan 

who labours by night as well as by day;

those who cut the signets of seals,

each is diligent in making a great variety;

they set their heart on painting a lifelike image,

and they are careful to finish their work.

So it is with the smith, sitting by the anvil,

intent on his ironwork;

the breath of the fire melts his flesh,

and he struggles with the heat of the furnace;

the sound of the hammer deafens his ears,

and his eyes are on the pattern of the object.

He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,

and he is careful to complete its decoration.

So it is with is the potter sitting at his work

and turning the wheel with his feet;

he is always deeply concerned over his products,

and he produces them in quantity.

He moulds the clay with his arm

and makes it pliable with his feet;

he sets his heart on finishing the glazing,

and he takes care in firing the kiln.

All these rely on their hands,

and all are skillful in their own work.

Reflection        The August 31st issue of the New Yorker includes an essay titled, “Survival Story: A New York City bus driver faces a pandemic and an uprising.” (p48-55) Terrence Layne is a fifty one year old bus driver, married father of three, who took advantage of 1980s education programs in prison and has worked his way up to shop steward in the NY City Transit Authority. Tuned in to his colleagues terror of contracting Covid-19, one morning in late March Layne stopped his bus on 116th St, put his phone on the dashboard and recorded this message.  

“Brothers and sisters. I want to thank you all for stepping up and coming to work today and showing what leadership looks like. We are performing an essential and invaluable task. We are not only delivering hospital personnel to their jobs. What about the person who needs dialysis? What about the person who needs regular cancer treatments? … Ordinarily we are not appreciated, not valued… If no one else recognizes you, know that I do.” Layne posted his message to three transit workers Facebook groups. 

Layne explains to the New Yorker interviewer, “ People think of front line workers  - the grocery workers, transit workers, first responders, cops, firefighters - as having helped the city get through it. But that’s not what happened. We helped the city survive it.” 

“Without (the workers) no city can be inhabited…

Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people…”

These wise words, penned by the teacher and philosopher Joshua one hundred and eighty years before the common era, in what we now refer to as the Wisdom of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, outlive time in their trustworthiness. Joshua’s wisdom points to the value of craftsmen; ordinary people who “labor by night as well as by day. All these (who) rely on their hands, and … are skillful in their own work.”

Is it not interesting, three times in our wisdom text Joshua spotlights the place in which the craftsperson sets her heart?  Artisans “set their heart on painting a lifelike image,” the blacksmith “sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,” and the potter “sets his heart on finishing the glazing.”  The artisan is not setting her heart on becoming a ballerina. The blacksmith is not setting his heart on getting rich and securing his retirement. The potter is not setting his heart on becoming a governor or religious official. 

Living in the way of wisdom each laborer Joshua commends sets their heart on the thing that is right in front of them. Their attentions are not flying on wings of wild imaginings, heading for fantastical places. They are not distracted by arguments of who is right and who is wrong, whether it is more laudable to be a blacksmith or a potter (translate to today, Republican or Democrat).  In the view of wisdom, a person is notable, laudable and esteemed, when they apply the skills they have to the work that is right in front of them. In other words, a person who lives the wayof wisdom consents to who they truly are and applies their skills (their particular gifts and treasure) to the context in which they find themselves.

Today we observe Labor Day, established in the late 19th century by the labor movement to recognize and pay tribute to the often invisible workers who make the United States strong, prosperous and keep her going even in the most titanic times. I believe it is not an overstatement to suggest that the well-being of this country stands on the shoulders of, “All these (who) rely on their hands, and all are skillful in their own work. (Because, as Joshua proclaims) without them no city can be inhabited.” 

The opening collect for Labor Day begins, “Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives.” This is a sentence worth pondering. “All that we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives.” Terence Layne reminds his colleagues that their decision to show up and drive their bus means that someone gets to their dialysis appointment or can receive their cancer treatment. Nurses, medical assistants and grocery workers can get to work and tend to strangers needs for food and comfort. 

This Labor Day begs us to ask ourselves, “How is my life linked to the people around me? How do my actions effect them, for good or ill? What action will I take today aimed at what is right?”

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Gospel text for Sunday 30 August 2020

 Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Reflection        “Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? God forbid it! You are moving to Arizona to do what? You will be sorry if you give up your home and studio, your consulting work and friends, your ski pass!” Much like Peter rebuking Jesus my well meaning friends and neighbors parrot the panicked voice of the status quo. “Why rock the boat and take unnecessary risks? You have a sweet life here. You do not have to do this.” 

To tell you the truth, their high pitched voices echord in my mind. “Am I crazy? What if this does not work out? I really do hate summer and that is all there is in Arizona.” It is tempting to capitulate and cling to the things about my life that I love and will miss. So like Jesus I have to shout for my own benefit as much as my friends’, “Get behind me Satan. I will not second guess my call to be an Episcopal priest.” There, I said it. Now if I could just swallow my heart.  Still my hot tears  flow as I drive away from my beloved New Mexico, heading into the deadly heat of Arizona, my Jerusalem. 

In this Sunday’s gospel text Peter understands that Jesus has a choice. He does not have to go to Jerusalem. He does not have to play into the hands of the religious and political officials who are plotting to kill him. Nothing stands between Jesus and the Judean hills in which he can hide. So what is going on here? Let us listen in on the passion play that must be occupying Jesus’ mind.

Voice of Temptation (also known as small self)  “You better stay safe, beat a quick retreat and stay far away from enemy lines. For heaven’s sake do not go near Jerusalem.”

Voice of Jesus (also known as true self)  “Life is risky business, you must take your life to the front line, aligned in the will of God. Turn your face to Jerusalem.”

Voice of Temptation (also known as small self) “There is no point marching straight into the fray. Surely you can find a work around, perhaps a cave in the Judean hills? You can hide there with your disciples. Save your life.”

Voice of Jesus (also known as true self) “Whatever arises you must face it head on. Consent to the present moment. There are no detours on the way to Jerusalem.”

Voice of Temptation (also known as small self)  “What is the point in suffering if you can avoid it?”

Voice of Jesus (also known as true self)  “No one can get through life without suffering. So I will pick up my cross and follow the One true voice that calls me to Jerusalem.”

Voice of Temptation (also known as small self)  “Then surely you will die.”

Voice of Jesus (also known as true self)  “I will die if I shrink in fear and run away to save my life. I choose to take the risk and live in faith, not fear.”

I choose. We all choose. The question is, do we choose to live by faith or fear? 

Fear urges us to forego the fullness of life in favor of a false sense of safety. The thing is when we are driven by fear of death (whether it is death of our physical bodies, death of a familiar lifestyle or death of the way things have always been), when we live in fear we actually lose our life. Think of it this way. If we wrap ourselves in cotton, lock ourselves into a closet and avoid all possible threats, would we not be as good as dead? mummies wrapped in our shrouds?

As did Jesus so do we have a choice. We can spend our lives saving our lives and end up with no life at all. Or we can give our lives away, allowing the spring of eternal life to flow through us, living in faith that God is with us. Jesus chose the latter and instructs us to do likewise. “Pick up your cross and follow me.”

Picking up the cross we give our life away meaning we stop clinging to ideas about what we and life are supposed to be and have and do. We pour out the cup of suffering and it is transformed into the spring of eternal life. This is the grand mystery of the cross. When we pour out whatever we cling to the peace of eternal life rises and fills our empty cup.  This is a profound and important truth. This is the very heart of our faith. When we pour out whatever we cling to the peace of eternal life rises and fills our empty cup.

Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? My answer is, “Yes, yes, I am crazy.. I have lost the mind that minds the voice that would make me cling to small things. And by the grace of God with me I cross the line from fear into faith and dare to drive away from my home, studio, work, friends and ski pass headed for the deadly heat of Arizona. Now let me ask you, “Will you be crazy too?”

To learn more about being a Crazy Christian please listen to Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's 10 minute story by clicking on image at upper right corner of this post.   Enjoy!!

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Friday, August 21, 2020

Gospel text for Sunday 23 August 2020

Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Reflection        When Jesus poses the question “Who do you say that I am?”  and Peter answers, “You are the Messiah,”  the matter is not settled. How could Jesus be the Messiah who was supposed to arrive in glory and rescue the Jews from their suffering?  To say things did not work out that way is a gross understatement. As we continue the quest to answer the question of Jesus’ identity we discover  many and varied answers that have everything to do with point of view.

Let us take a brisk walk through history.  Aligned in their Greek understanding that the world of matter is inferior to the world of spirit, one of the earliest Christian doctrines, Docetism, understood Jesus as only appearing to be human. They could not fathom divinity lowering itself to inhabit a perishable body. Being firmly committed monotheism, the Ebionites, Jewish Christians, solved the problem of Jesus’ divinity by suggesting it must have been conferred upon him at baptism. Jesus was truly human, only later became divine by supernatural intervention. The Arians, bent on preserving the singular divinity of God the Father understood Jesus to be subordinate to God but superior to humanity, essentially making Jesus neither human nor divine. A couple hundred years of such arguments lead to the council of Nicaea in 325 which affirms Jesus is of one substance with God but stops short of explaining Jesus’ humanity. 

The arguments regarding Jesus’ nature continue. Nestorians argue that Jesus’ two natures are united by will not by substance which means Jesus is dualistic, two. The Monophysites fiercely object, Jesus must be one and the one that he has to be is divine. 

For another one hundred and twenty six years bishops excommunicate each other when not cutting off their heads until in 451 we arrive at the Chalcedonian definition of Jesus as “truly God and truly man, two unconfused natures, with the distinct character of each nature preserved in one person.”  A brilliant logical and linguistic leap, but really, does that answer your question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Here is yet another perspective. In the Episcopal tradition we study the stories of Jesus, not looking for dogmatic definitions but rather for our own transformation. That is why we refer to scripture as the living Word of God, the Word that invites us into the story, that asks us to be open to the movement of the Spirit that stirs us up and stops us in our tracks with wonder. What is going on here? What is this saying to me? Are you not stunned when Jesus breaks all the rules, eats with sinners, tax collectors and foreign women?  shocked when Jesus points his finger at the accusers of a woman caught in adultery rather than at the woman? horrified when Jesus  compares a woman begging him to heal her daughter to dogs? nodding in sympathy when Jesus prays to be relieved of his cup of suffering? heartbroken when kneeling at the foot of the cross with the women weeping for the death of a beloved teacher, friend or son?    

In my view, and this is only mine, if Jesus is born more holy, divine or godlike than you or me, then I am off the hook. How can I be expected to follow and emulate someone who is qualitatively different than I am? What measure of responsibility must I assume to challenge the status quo and be forgiving, inclusive and willing to die for the good of others if I can claim, “Of course Jesus can love strangers and foreigners, even his persecutors. Of course he has the courage to challenge the status quo. He is divine but I am only human.”  

No where in scripture do we find warrant for making this distinction. We simply do not get to plead the theological equivalent of the fifth amendment. We are responsible to live and breath and fulfill our God given inheritance as sons and daughters of God. We are intended to wake up and grow into the divine humans we are meant to be, like Jesus. 

It is no wonder we dance around answering Jesus question, “Who do you say that I am?” It has direct and significant consequences for who we say that we are.

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Gospel Text for Sunday 16 August 2020

Matthew 15: 21-28        Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Reflection       It was the beginning of my ministry at a very large parish. Each of the four priests had distinctive ministry portfolios. Mine included benevolence. When I said to the rector, “I know what benevolence is but what am I supposed to do?” he answered, “You’ll figure it out” whereupon I promptly forgot about benevolence and went about doing things I thought I knew how to do. All was well until one morning the receptionist buzzed “You have a call on line 3.” “Hi Madeleine. Who is it?” “Mr. Extrajero, a benevolence call. Do you want me to tell him you are busy or you’ll get back to him?” “Yes please take his number and I will call him back.” The truth is, I was not that busy. Nothing in my world was more pressing than this phone call. 

A few minutes later Madeleine brought Mr. Extrajero’s number to my office. I was just sitting there, feeling beleaguered and befuddled wondering, “Now what am I supposed to do?” Realizing I was not going to get any of my work done until I made this call I drew myself up, lifted the receiver and called, “Good morning Mr. Extrajero. This is Reverend Debra. What may I do for you?” Expecting a swift answer “I need money for rent or for my child’s doctor,” I was stunned when a flood of words, a litany of misfortune accompanying Mr. Extrajero from early childhood into every nook and cranny of his lengthy life spilled out. Awash in the overwhelming details of the story it became clear that no end to the river was on the horizon and an edgy agitation swelled from my tapping foot to my racing mind. “This is taking far too long and he isn’t even one of our parishioners. I have things to do.” My attempts to insert a word and redirect the river were futile so I settled back in my chair and waited, waited until Mr. Extrajero ran out of words and I asked again, “What may I do for you?” Almost apologetically he answered, “Would you pray with me?” I could barely say yes because my throat was closed as tears flowed to heal my hard heart. 

That is why I love this gospel text. I love meeting ever so human Jesus, who thinks his ministry is solely to the people of Israel. Jews are the only people worthy of his care and concern so he is determined not to be distracted or deterred by a shouting foreigner. I love that even Jesus gets annoyed when this persistent mother demands his attention. And I recoil when the mother lowers herself to kneel before him and beg for mercy, Jesus dismisses her, brutally dehumanizing her as equivalent to  a dog. What I love most is this,  Jesus changes his mind and his action. 

When we meet Jesus this morning he is operating from a conventional, conformist perspective. He is complying with the established practices, laws and accepted behavior of his people whose social, cultural and religious conventions dictate who is in and who is out, who is deserving and who is not. Another word for this is tribalism which is strong loyalty to a particular ethnic, religious or political group. On one hand is good for the cohesion of the group and on the other it can lead to prejudice, bigotry and inhumanity. Jesus is simply behaving as is expected in his tribe. 

That is, until the persistent mother’s pleas for mercy pierce Jesus’ heart. Then, riding a wave of compassion, Jesus is changed. His consciousness evolves to an expanded, universalizing perspective and recognizing the value of this particular foreign woman Jesus unequivocally gives her the healing for which she begs. What we witness here is exquisite. Jesus’ consciousness has grown from a conventional, conformist mindset to a universalizing perspective that affirms the value of all people, connecting and caring for friend and foreigner alike is the true scope of his ministry. 

Here is what we do not find in in this story. No where do we hear Jesus beating himself up for his initial heartless reaction to the mother’s pleas for mercy. He never indulges in self recrimination, shame, blame or guilt. He does not pause to write in his journal and reflect on his evil ways. He doesn’t say wait, “I have to go to the temple, purify myself  and make a sin offering.” He doesn’t feel ashamed and try to hide nor look for a therapist to help him process his guilt.  Jesus simply allows his heart to be broken open and his behavior to change. 

This is how we all can grow into better versions of ourselves. Stop blaming ourselves and one another for our hardened hearts. Stop recriminations and looking for explanations.  Just wake up and admit, we have not been the best versions of ourselves. We tend to harden our hearts against other peoples’ suffering because we do not want to feel our own. The thing is, suffering happens to all of us. It is the great equalizer.  As our Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr is famous for saying (and I paraphrase), “One of three things has to happen for us to grow up and our consciousness to evolve. Great disciplined prayer practice, which few of us do; great love, which few of us experience or great suffering, which none of us can avoid.”

Years ago when I received Mr. Extrajero’s call for benevolence, listened to his interminable tale of excruciating suffering, I was utterly dumbfounded when the one thing he wanted was for me to pray with him. Mr. Extrajero wanted someone connect with him and hold his suffering with care in the holiness of prayer. Mr. Extrajero taught me the most important thing is to connect and care. This was the moment I discovered my priestly ministry. 

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Friday, August 7, 2020

Hebrew and Christian Texts for The Transfiguration Sunday 9 August 2020

 Exodus 34:29-35        Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Luke 9:28-36        Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Reflection        If I were smart and had the courage I would  invite you to set a timer for ten minutes, and stop writing right here because there are no words sufficient to engage our Hebrew and Christian texts wherein we meet Moses, Jesus, Peter, James and John at the top of the mountain and the cloud of glory descends upon all of us.

Like many preachers years past I have tried to master these texts and in my meagre attempts have turned them into pedestrian tales by focusing on the foibles of bumbling Peter and his ever so human inclination to cling to his experience of the divine by building dwelling places. I do it and I submit, you do it too. When the cloud of glory descends upon us and we are rapt in the radiance of unknowing we try to grasp it, wrap our minds around it, build wordy dwellings to contain it. Until the Word, God, plunges us into immutable silence and the voiceless voice that stretches from before beginningless time to forever whispers, “Listen. Listen. Stop talking and listen.”

It is good for us to be here. It is good for us to be rapt in the radiance of divine presence. It is good for us to put the veil on our faces and stop talking because the glory of God is upon us.

Is it not interesting that like monks and nuns and hermits, these days we are sent to our cells to be still and wait for we know not what to happen? When we dare to venture out we put a  mask over our mouths, turn our faces away from others, stop talking and keep our distance? 

Could it be that this time of global pandemic is an opportunity to rekindle the light in each one of us? Could it be this time of confinement and uncertainty is the cloud of glory overshadowing and sequestering us in silence? Could it be the radiance of Divine Presence is straining to spill its light over our lives, revive our dwindling spirits and ignite our wholehearted actions?

Divine Light or as Christians call it, the Light of Christ appears in multiple dimensions. We witness the Light as the mysterious radiance of Divinity revealed on mountaintops about which we may only be rightly silent, and, we experience the Light as the glow of Divine Presence radiates through our lives in our willing acts of kindness, generosity, hospitality and compassion. To be embodied and fulfilled Divine Light depends upon each one of us to be silent in the presence of glory and to act with vigor and unfailing spirits to spread the Light by our deliberate acts of kindness.

It is good for us to be here. It is good for us to be rapt in the radiance of Divine Presence. It is good for us to put the mask on our faces and stop talking because the glory of God is upon us. It is good for us to act with vigor and unfailing spirits to spread Divine Light by our deliberate acts of kindness. 

Now is the time for us to stop talking about things we cannot grasp, stop grasping for things that cannot last. Now let us use this time in the cloud of sequestered uncertainty as an opportunity to pause in our places, be still and listen for the glory of God and allow divine radiance to illumine our darkness; admit it is much easier to see the error of other’s ways than to recognize our own, confess our inclination to aggrandize our strengths while pointing to another’s weakness, admit that our lights are dimmed when we think we are always right and therefore the other person is always wrong. 

The other day I was talking with a priest friend who was delighted with a new tee shirt he acquired. It reads, “God loves the people you hate.”  It is hard to breath that in and breath that out. And the cloud comes and overshadows us. We are terrified as we enter the cloud, terrified by the unutterable questions, “What if I am wrong? What if I cannot know? What if like well-intended Peter I am speaking without knowing what I am saying?  And the Word, God, plunges us into immutable silence and the voiceless voice that stretches from before beginningless time to forever whispers, “Listen. Listen. Stop talking and listen.”

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Friday, July 31, 2020

Hebrew and Gospel Texts for Sunday 2 August 2020

Isaiah 55:1-5        Thus says the Lord:

"Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know,

and nations that do not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you."

Matthew 14:13-21       Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Reflection       Eight months ago we were a people preoccupied with buying our airline or theatre tickets and planning our next hike, cruise or family vacation. All good things, but things in God’s economy that do not last and ultimately, do not satisfy. 

Four months later we were a people preoccupied with waiting in long lines and spending inordinate amounts of money on bags of beans and rice, cans of tuna and mountains of toilet paper. All good things, but things in God’s economy that do not last and ultimately, do not satisfy. 

For the most part, I believe,  our initial response to the alarming news about a global pandemic was much like the disciples standing on the shores of Galilee and imploring Jesus to “send the people away so they could buy food for themselves.” “Go, store up your survival supplies. It is up to you to take care of number one, yourself.” But Jesus has a different perspective on reality and avers “(The people) need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 

Is it not interesting that  five and a half centuries before Jesus is born, at the end of the Babylonian exile,  the poet third Isaiah is counseling the Jews about buying and eating bread and milk and wine. For two generations many Jews have lived far south of Jerusalem in exile. During this time they have acquired wealth. Now that they are free many are reluctant to return to Jerusalem, which waits for them in ruin. 

Third Isaiah challenges the people, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good.” In other words, “Your tangible resources and wealth are nothing compared to the blessing of being in relationship with God and your people, returning to Jerusalem.” Here it is important to recall that the Jews then believed their ruined temple was the site of God’s Presence. Being released from exile they were now free to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple and restore relationship with the Holy of Holies. The poet’s bottom line message is, there is something better than real food available to you. You have a choice. Will you leave what does not satisfy behind and turn toward what is good?

Shifting gears for a moment, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Twenty five hundred years ago third Isaiah could have spoken the words penned by Charles Dickens in his Tale For Two Cities to the Jews in Babylon. The same sentiment rings true for Jesus five hundred and fifty years later. And, on Thursday evening a group of leaders at Church of the Apostles agreed, Dickens words endure today.

It is the best of times for stopping the swirl of habitual activity, aimless action and the deluge of empty distraction. It is the worst of times for being separated from family and friends. Foolishness flourishes when we are sucked into the vortex of divisiveness stirred up by pundits and politicians. Wisdom swells when we listen to reasoned words and thoughtful consideration. Despair breaks our hearts as people die alone and loved ones cannot celebrate the lives of the deceased. Hope thrives in the darkness of uncertainty when we choose to see our challenges as opportunities, opportunities to cultivate the gardens of our shared lives.

Now that much of our habitual busyness, empty actions and deluge of distractions are laid to rest during our time of sheltering in place, we have the opportunity to let go of things that do not last and hold fast to that which truly satisfies, we have the opportunity to pull the weeds and cultivate the gardens of our shared lives.

Twenty five hundred years ago or today, the message is the same. 

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good

…so that you may live.” 

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