Thursday, August 11, 2022

Gospel text for Sunday 14 August 2022


Luke 1:26- 38 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee, Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the name of the virgin was Mary. And the angel came to Mary and said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Most High God is with you.” Now, she was troubled by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Fear not Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Sovereign God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his sovereignty there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have not known a man intimately?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit, She will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the one born will be holy. He will be called Son of God. And now, Elizabeth your kinswoman has even conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for she who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the woman-slave of God; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.


Reflection        The big, hairy, audacious idea of conceiving and giving birth to Divine Presence does not end with Mary!


How many young, virginal women did the Angel Gabriel approach who failed to “see, hear, or recognize” Divine Presence with them? How many thought they heard or saw something and decided they must have had too much wine or not enough sleep and promptly dismissed Divine Possibility? How many heard “the call” and dug deep down to the bottom of them selves and choked, “No way. This will never happen to me?” How many young women missed the opportunity to put their body, their very life on the line for the big, hairy, audacious idea of conceiving and giving birth to Divine Presence before the Angel Gabriel found Mary of Judea who, after pondering these things and questioning the angel, wholeheartedly consents? 


What would it take for you to consent to conceive and give birth to Divine Presence today?


I personally fall into the category of a not so young woman who heard “the call” and promptly reacted, “No way!”  Mine was a call to the priesthood, a position that would bend my body and stretch my mind completely out of shape. After all, I am an introvert. I would rather be invisible than in front of a crowd. Daring to preach the Word of God, well, that is for holy people, which I clearly am not. There is nothing about being a priest that sits comfortably with me. 


But that darn angel would not give up; for more than ten years, disturbing my peace, unsettling my life, twisting my gut, sending me to classes and even a convent, hoping to avoid “the call.” Until physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually spent I gave my consent. But, not without declaring, “Oh God you know I cannot do this. I cannot be this. I cannot speak in front of people. I cannot be with dying people. I cannot even say I believe all that the Church claims about you. The truth of the matter is, right now  I am utterly barren. I have nothing to give. If I go down this road, you better show up because I am going to put my faith in the angel’s promise to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”


I consented. God has been faithful, been “with me” every time I ask. The only times I have faltered or failed are when I put my faith in my self rather than pausing to consent to God’s presence and action with me. I am living, breathing proof that “nothing is impossible with God” because countless things are done through me that I cannot possibly do. 


What I have learned is this. When the writer of John’s gospel declares, “The Word became flesh,” he was not only speaking about Jesus. His proclamation is intended for all of us.  The big, hairy, audacious idea of conceiving and giving birth to Divine Presence does not end with Jesus. Rather, it depends on every human being’s consent to be the fertile womb through which Divine Presence lives and breaths and makes us new as “the home of God among the woman-born…” (Rev. 21.3)


What would it take for you to consent to conceive and give birth to Divine Presence today?


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Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Psalm and Gospel texts for Sunday 7 August 2022

Psalm 10.1-14

Why, Compassionate One, do you stand afar? 

       Why do you hide yourself in hard times?

In arrogance the wicked harass the poor; 

       let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. 

For the wicked praise their [every] inmost desire,

       extort gain and bless those who despise the Creator of All.

The wicked turn up their nose and do not seek [God];

       There is no God in all their thoughts. 

Their ways prosper all the time; 

       your judgements are on high, beyond them;

       all their foes scoff at them. 

They say in their heart, “We shall not be shaken;

       nor [see] evil down through the generations.”

Cursing fills their mouths along with the deceit and oppression; 

       under their tongues are trouble and iniquity.

They sit in ambush in the villages;

in hiding places they murder the innocent.

       Their eyes surveil the vulnerable. 

They lie-in-wait that they ay snatch the poor;

       they search the poor and drag them off in their net. 

They stoop, they crouch, 

       and the vulnerable fall prey through their might. 

They say in their heart, “God has forgotten,

       she has hidden her face, she will never see it.”

Rise up, Faithful God; dear God, lift up your hand;

       forget not the oppressed. 

Why do the wicked despise God,

       and say in their hearts you shall not find out?

You see, you regard trouble and grief, 

       to take [it] into your hands. 

Upon you the vulnerable entrust themselves; 

       to the orphan you have ever [only] been their helper. 


John 10.11-16        “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd to whom the sheep do not belong, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. All because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Shepherd-Of-All knows me and I know the Shepherd-Of-All. And I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold: I must bring them as well, and they will listen to my voice, thus there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

 

Reflection      Here is the secret about bullies. Bullies are people or nations driven by fear to project an image that they are special, superior and sinless. In a bearded effort to cover up their own weakness, smallness and vulnerability, bullies puff themselves up to exert power over others who seem weaker, smaller or more vulnerable.


Remember the swaggering giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17) armored in bronze and fitted with fine forged shield and spear? His looming presence sends the ordinary citizens of Israel fleeing in fear.  Goliath was a bully. We face another Goliath as the Russian superpower deploys masses of money and military might to impose its tyrannical will and exile ordinary Ukrainian citizens.  Here is the thing. When brazen superpowers appear to get away with their barefaced bullying, they boast about being exempt from the will of God.  Cocksure and crowing, “the wicked turn up their noses and do not seek God.” They rant and rave, “We can get away with anything. What need have we for God?”


Meanwhile, drenched in dread the oppressed lament, “We cannot trust anything (the wicked) say, because “cursing fills their mouths along with deceit and oppression…” What are we to believe? What can we do?”  Still, all is not lost if the subjugated do not give up on God. Truth be told, what else can they do? 


A survey of people who identify themselves as nonreligious completed in the United Kingdom in 2018 found that “one in five atheists and agnostics pray on a regular basis in times of personal crisis. Atheists and agnostics reported that the most common reason for them to pray is during a tragedy, but 25 percent of these individuals admitted to also praying for comfort or simply out of loneliness.” **


When we are invaded by a superpower or for any reason come face to face with a bully, there is a good chance we will join the Ukrainians and the psalmist protesting ,  “Why is God not devouring the oppressors and rescuing us?’  Consenting to the reality that we are vulnerable we put our faith in God rather than ourselves. We implore God to take decisive action, “Rise up … lift up your hand”…do not forget us!” 


Unlike bullies who act as if they were gods, the vulnerable never stop calling out to God.  The vulnerable, even the atheist, pray, “Faithful God, “you see, you regard our trouble and grief, take it into your hands.”  Faithful God, we entrust our selves to you.”


Consenting to the reality that we are not in control,  the vulnerable and oppressed are blessed. As Jesus teaches in the gospel according to Matthew, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “(Matt 5.5,6,8)  Restored to hope, we join the psalmist and our Ukrainian sisters and brothers proclaiming, “Faithful God, to the orphan you have only ever been their helper.” 


This is the Good News that points to the familiar gospel text known as the Good Shepherd. The sheep depend upon the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd never abandons the sheep, cares for the sheep and knows each one by name. Here is the tricky bit. The Good Shepherd is the Shepherd-of-All.  All means all. The  Shepherd-of-All has other sheep, “that do not (yet) belong to the fold.” The Shepherd-of-All is faithful to the oppressed as well as the oppressors, the Ukrainians as well as the Russians, because the Shepherd-of-All’s superpower is not forged in bronze nor deployed with fear. 


Sending the disciples out “like sheep into the midst of wolves,” (Matt 10.16) like Ukrainians into the midst of Russians, like us into a world fraught with division and violence, Jesus offers counsel, “…have no fear…  for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… “ 


Here is the uncovered secret about bullies. Bullies are people or nations driven by fear to project an image that they are special, superior and sinless. In a bearded effort to cover up their own weakness, smallness and vulnerability, bullies puff themselves up to exert power over others who seem weaker, smaller or more vulnerable. In other words, bullies and reject their role as sheep assume the posture of Bloated Bad Shepherd.   


Even Jesus is both, a vulnerable sheep known and cared for by the Shepherd-Of-All and Good Shepherd of his flock. We all are meant to be both, good shepherds extending our lives for the benefit of others and vulnerable sheep, known and cared for by the Shepherd-Of-All. The thing is, we cannot be one without also being the other. Sheep and Good Shepherd are two sides of one coin. Power held in check by humility. 


I can think of no better counsel for the Ukrainians and every other person subject to the vulgar misuse of power by bullying tyrants who deny they are sheep. “Do not fear those who would kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Though bombastic bullies may polish their armor and sharpen their tongues, we need not be afraid because as sheep we entrust ourselves to the One who has “ever only been our helper,” the Shepherd-of-All who knows our name and cares for us as we muddle along in the midst of bullies while doing our best to be good shepherds of others. 


Have a listen to James Finley speaking about Sacred Moments of Vulnerability by clicking on image near the upper right of your screen. 


**https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/14/half-of-non-believers-pray-says-poll





Saturday, July 30, 2022

Gospel text for Sunday 31 July 2022


Mark 6:14-29     Now King Herod heard of [the teaching of Jesus], for Jesus’s name had become known and some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead and that is why the powers work through him.” Yet others said, “It is Elijah” while others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets [of old].” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

         For Herod himself had sent men who seized John and bound him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for Herod had married her. For John had told Herod, “It is not right for you to have your brother’s wife.” Now Herodias had a grudge against him and she wanted to kill him. But she could not. This was because Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous man and a holy man and he protected him and listened to him, though greatly perplexed; yet it pleased him to listen to him. 


         Now an opportune time came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for his courtiers and commanders and for the leaders of Galilee. And Herod’s daughter Herodias came in a danced, pleasing Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish and I will give it to you.” And he swore to her repeatedly, “Whatever you ask me, I will give to you, even half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she returned to the king with haste and asked, saying “I want immediately for you to give me on a platter the head of John the Baptizer.” The king was deeply sorry, yet because of his oaths and the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier under orders to bring John’s head. And he went and beheaded him in the prison. And he brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. 

 

Reflection           Worried about evil? Here is how it works.


Slave to his fear of people’s judgment King Herod does not have the courage to live his convictions. Although he knew John the Baptizer to be a “righteous and holy man,” when his pride and power are on the line, Herod orders John’s head be given on a platter to his daughter. Fearing his guest’s judgement were he not to satisfy his daughter’s egregious demand, Herod is subject to the work of evil through him.


By contrast, John the Baptizer, a wilderness wandering preacher,  dares to speak truth to power by calling out Herod for marrying his brother’s wife Herodias. Being a man who lives by faith not fear, John is confident in his convictions and  veritably glows in contrast to the cold footed King Herod.

Fearful people capitulate to social pressure to conform. Believing their source of strength is in themselves or with other people they bow to political squeeze  and aim to execute whoever threatens their sense of security, safety, esteem, power or control. Consequently the fearful become vehicles for the work of evil. It is not that the people are evil, rather, they are vulnerable to evil working through them when they live in fear.

On the other hand, when we choose to live in faith we find confidence and conviction in something greater than themselves. Finding faith with God (or Yahweh, Allah, The Light, the One, the Mystery...)  gives us the freedom to remain calm  in the face of threats to our security, safety, esteem, power or control. Being faithful we are free rather than slaves to the working of evil through us. 

Eight years ago we witnessed a show of faith in Charleston, South Carolina when the Emmanuel American Methodist Episcopal Church responded to the murder of their senior pastor and eight other church members who were gunned down during a Bible study. Rather than eat the bait of evil and set off riots and a race war, the leaders and people of the AME church chose to respond with calm confidence, which they were free to do because they live in faith, not fear.  

Four days after the tragic shooting during the Sunday morning service at the AME church, the Rev. Goff pierced the hearts of the people in his church and across the nation when he preached, “Some wanted to divide the races - black and white and brown - but no weapon formed against us shall prosper.” Outside the doors of the church hung a banner that read, “Holy City… let us be the example of love that conquers evil.” Choosing faith leaves no room for the work of evil’s hateful hand.

This is what the families in Lancaster, Pennsylvania did seventeen years ago following the hateful shooting of their ten young daughters in an Amish school house. This heart breaking incident shocked the nation, with strangers contributing more than  four million dollars to support the Amish families. For many of us, even more stupefying than the massacre of ten girls between the ages of six and thirteen years was the Amish community’s response to their tragedy.  

Almost immediately following the shooting the grandfather of one of the girls who was killed expressed forgiveness to the killer while other Amish folk visited and comforted the killer’s family. In the midst of unspeakable loss and grief, the Amish community refused to react with fear, anger, blame or seek retaliation. Instead they chose to respond with compassion which they were free to do because they choose to live in faith, not fear, which leaves no room for the work of evil’s hateful hand. 

In Luke’s gospel we see Jesus nailed to a cross, hanging between two criminals. We are stunned by his shocking words, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23.34) I believe Jesus’ remarkable words are intended not only for the criminals flanking him but also for the disciples who abandon him and all who participate by their action or inaction in his brutal suffering and death. Jesus chooses to live by faith leaving no room for evil’s hateful hand to work through him.

We live in a world at war with our selves and one another. We have tuned our ears to hear insult and offense. We have set our minds to mine for misdemeanor. We screw up our eyes to find someone to blame for our wounded feelings. We harden our hearts to the suffering that abounds around us. We engage litigious means to execute retribution. We fail to follow the way of faith driven conviction commanded by God and embodied by the folks in Charleston, Lancaster, and Jerusalem. 

I believe we are at a crossroads in our community, our country and our world. Evil seduces us in the marketing of excess and tolerance of abuse. Evil thrives when we shade our eyes to lies and bow to corruption. Evil succeeds when we choose fear rather than faith as the standard for our lives. 

The only way I know to overcome fear is to choose faith, faith in something greater than ourselves that some call God, Yahweh, Allah, Mystery, Light, Divine Presence. Here is the thing. Choosing faith is not a once and done endeavor. It is a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute commitment to choose faith in the face of whatever shows up on this wild journey we call life, because when we choose faith there is no room for evil to work its hateful way through us.


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Saturday, July 23, 2022

Hebrew and Gospel texts for Sunday 24 July 2022

 

Genesis 16.10-13        The angel of the Lord also said to (Hagar), ‘I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.’ And the angel of the Lord said to her,

‘Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;
   you shall call him Ishmael,
   for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
He shall be a wild ass of a man,

with his hand against everyone,
   and everyone’s hand against him;

and he shall live at odds with all his kin.’
So she named the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi’; for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?’

John 20.1-18         Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


Genesis 16.10-13        The angel of the Lord also said to (Hagar), ‘I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.’ And the angel of the Lord said to her,
‘Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;
   you shall call him Ishmael,
   for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
He shall be a wild ass of a man,

with his hand against everyone,
   and everyone’s hand against him;

and he shall live at odds with all his kin.’
So she named the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi’; for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?’

John 20.1-18         Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


Reflection        “Have I really seen God and remained alive?” asks the astonished Hagar when Living God finds and encourages her in the presence of her deepest despair. The slave woman Hagar belongs to Abram’s wife Sarai and when Sarai is unable to get pregnant she gives Hagar to her husband to bear a child for her. But when the deed is accomplished and Hagar is pregnant Sarai is furious and abuses Hagar, who runs away to the wilderness, utterly bereft. (Genesis 16.1–7)


It is there, in the depths of her despair that the messenger of God finds and encourages Hagar. Realizing she has encountered Living God while still alive, Hagar’s burden becomes bearable knowing that she and her unborn child have not been abandoned or forgotten. In the depths of despair, God finds her there.


Consider another such moment as experienced by Mary Magdalene. Luke’s gospel text presents Mary as Jesus’ devoted friend and disciple. She follows him to Jerusalem, is there for his triumphal entry and humiliating departure. Surely she is sickened by the smell of his sweat and taste of his blood while standing at the foot of the cross. All four gospels aver that Mary is the first to discover Jesus’ empty tomb. When Mary Magdalene announces to Peter and the other disciple that Jesus’ body is not in his tomb, all three of them go to the tomb. Once Peter and the other disciple confirm that Jesus’ body is gone, they “return to their homes.” Mary alone stays present, waiting and weeping outside the empty tomb.


Although it seems that everything is lost to Mary she does not return home to the way things used to be. She does not turn away from her experience of the present moment. Mary consents to the depth and breadth of her despair. Broken hearted and empty handed Mary waits and weeps.


If we choose to wait with Mary in the chill of the empty tomb we will learn something about navigating the inevitable moments of despair in our own lives. Stay with them. Stand in them. Do not turn away and attempt to return to the way things used to be. Consent to wait and weep and wonder as does Mary Magdalene until a glimmer of hope arises in our emptiness.


In the gospel according to John we read, “(Mary) turned around and saw Jesus standing but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom do you look?’ Supposing him to be the gardener she said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew ‘Rabbouni!’” Following Jesus’ instruction Mary “went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” In the depth of her despair Mary Magdalene is surprised by Divine Presence with her.” Again, In the depths of despair, God finds us there.


Rapt in the darkness of impending doom Hagar and Mary Magdalene’s despair is transformed by the surprising Presence of God with them. Like light from a distant star traveling through billions of light years to pierce our dark hearts, the power of Divine Presence does not dim over time. The lives of both Hagar and Mary Magdalene are for all time illumined.


Today as we stare into the empty tombs in our lives; pondering the atrocities that assault our minds and inflame our emotions, wondering when the season of seeing and treating each other as enemies will cease, waiting for a glimmer of hope to penetrate the pandemic darkness of our hearts, we can be assured of just one thing. The God of Surprises arises in the midst of our fear, suffering, heartbreak and despair when we consent to feel the depth and breadth of the present moment, turn our faces to God and wait until Divine Presence surprises us with a mysterious kiss that transforms our tears into cries of joy, “I have seen God and remained alive.”


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Friday, July 22, 2022

Hebrew and Gospel texts for Sunday 17 July 2022


 1 Samuel 8.1, 4-18         Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Look here! You-- you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now then, set up for us a ruler to judge us, like all the heathen nations.” But the thing was evil in Samuel’s sight when they said, “Give us a ruler to judge us.” Then Samuel prayed to the Holy One of Old. 

And the Holy One  said to Samuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for it is not you they have rejected, but it is me they have rejected from ruling over them. Like everything else they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this very day, forsaking me and serving other gods; they are doing the same to you. Now then, hearken to their voice; but—you shall testify against them, and show them the judgement of the ruler who shall rule over them.”

 

So Samuel relayed all the words of the Holy One to the people who were asking him for a ruler. Samuel said, “This will be the judgement of the ruler who will rule over you all: your sons he will take and set them aside for himself his chariots and in his cavalry, and to run before his chariots. And he will set aside for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his plowing and to reap his reaping, and to make his furnishings of war and the furnishings of his chariots. Your daughters he will take to be apothecaries and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards; he will take and give to those who serve him. One-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards he will take and give to his eunuchs and those he enslaves. Your male slaves and your female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, he will take and put them to his work. Your flocks he will tithe…and you all, you shall be his slaves. And you all will cry out on that day in the face of your sovereign, whom you have chosen for yourselves; and God Whose Name is Holy will not answer you all on the day.”


John 6.14-20        When the people saw the sign that Jesus had done [multiplying the loaves and fish], they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to kidnap him in order to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 

 

And when it was evening, his disciples went down to the sea. And they boarded a boat and headed across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea surged; a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about twenty-five stadia [three or four miles], they saw Jesus walking upon the sea and coming near the boat and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; be not afraid.”



Reflection        If only we had the right politicians, the right king or president they would make and enforce laws that support our preferences, promote our programs for happiness and settle the storms in our lives.  Right?


Apparently similar logic drove the elders of Israel whom we meet in the Hebrew Text insisting the prophet, priest and judge Samuel anoint for them a king to rule in their favor and make their lives better, effectively ending the tenure of Judges’ caring for the tribes of Israel. And so faithful Samuel prays to the Holy One and hears, “Give the people what they want and in no uncertain terms detail the consequences. Your sons and daughters will be drafted, farmlands seized and labor taxed for the sovereign’s benefit and “you all shall be (the king’s) slaves.” “


As predicted, insisting on transition from tribal jurisdiction to monarchy, life for the Israelites dives downhill. Caught in the argument between the elite who want to centralize power and the peasants who want their lives and liberty protected, Saul, the first King anointed by Samuel, is powerless to effect change. Not only that, he is consumed in a struggle with David who systematically strategizes to steal Saul’s crown. So what has changed? 


Leap forward one thousand years to John’s text where we meet five thousand people who have seen the signs of Jesus’ healing and when their hunger is mysteriously satisfied with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6.1-13) the eyes of their hearts are opened. They recognize Jesus, “is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” No doubt their minds are reeling with possibility. “Finally we will have a king to make and enforce laws that support our preferences, promote our programs for happiness and settle the storms in our lives. We must make Jesus king.”


But Jesus has no interest in being king or politician. Perceiving then that (the people)  were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Jesus will not submit to making and enforcing laws that support political preferences or promote particular programs for happiness.  Jesus wants nothing to do with exercising power over people nor is he here to assure a happily ever after life.  Rather than being seized by the peoples’ passions Jesus turns his face toward the Holy One and withdraws to the mountain alone. Jesus turns to the source of Real Power.


Here is the thing. Beginning with Samuel we are forewarned, “Do not turn your back on the Holy One. If you put your faith in kings, monarchs or presidents they will demand your fealty, you will become their slaves and “you will cry out on that day in the face of your sovereign, whom you have chosen for yourselves, and GOD WHOSE NAME IS HOLY will not answer you all that day.” Do not look to kings or presidents to make and enforce laws that support your preferences and promote your programs for happiness. Do not look to kings or presidents to rescue you from life’s stormy seas. Turn to the source of Real Power.


As the psalmist proclaims, “Blessed be the Fount of Justice, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.” (PS 72.18) Every blessing, every mercy, every act of justice originates with God whose name is Holy. This is why we sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” And here is the thing we do not like to hear. When the storm is raging and winds are raising great waves of distress around them, Jesus does not still the storm for the terrified disciples. He just shows up to be in it with them. “Here I am. Do not be afraid.” Perhaps he would add, “ I do not come to serve your desires, to legislate your preferences or promise you a happily ever after life. I come to be with you so that you experience the Peace of Real Power no matter what storms rock your life.”


Truly we are living in a storm stricken time. We have lost control of our lives. What seemed settled is unsettled, things we thought were done have been undone.  Once a shining city on a hill our country is ruptured and her light is dim. Even our Christian tradition is breached by angry voices demanding they have the right to impose their version of Christian values on the laws and life of society, who justify violence to achieve their end and believe real power can be centered in a president or king. 


What then shall we do? Follow the lead of Jesus, withdraw to the mountain with Jesus remembering, “God whose name is Holy alone does wondrous things.” 


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Saturday, July 9, 2022

Hebrew Testament & Gospel for Sunday 10 July 2022


1 Samuel 4.2, 5-11, 19-22         The Philistines deployed against Israel and the battle was lost and Israel was struck down by the Philistines, and they killed on the field of battle four thousand men. 

 

Now it happened as the ark of the covenant of the FIRE OF SINAI came into the camp, all Israel shouted a great shout and the earth herself echoed it. And when the Philistines heard the sound of the great shout, they said, “What is this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews?” Then they learned that the ark of the ANCIENT OF DAYS had come to the camp. And the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.” And they said “Woe to us!” Never has there been such a thing. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every kind of plague in the wilderness. Strengthen yourselves and be men, O Philistines, lest you become enslaved to the Hebrews as they were enslaved to you; be men and fight.” 

 

So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated and fled, each to their tent. Now there was a very great slaughter and there fell from Israel thirty thousand foot-soldiers. Then the ark of God was taken and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. 

 

Now Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she squatted and gave birth, for her labor pains came on and overwhelmed her. Then at the moment of her death, the women standing with her said to her, “Fear not, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not answer or incline her heart. She named the child “Ai Kavod,” Ichabod, meaning, “Woe [Ai]! The glory [Kavod] has departed from Israel,“ because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. She said,  “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been taken.”

 

 John 14.25-31        “These things have I said to you while I am still with you all. But the advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Most High will send in my name, She will teach you all things and She will remind you all of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you all. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, nor let them fear. You have heard me say to you all, ‘I am going away and I am coming to you,’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Creator, because the Almighty is greater than I. And now, I have told you this before it happens, so when it happens, you all might believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming and has nothing in me. Rather, that the world may know that I love the Creator of All, just as the Sovereign God commands me, so I do. Rise now, let us leave this place. 



Reflection        Driving cross town late Thursday afternoon it was as if a hot poker was piercing my heart and my gut felt twisted as a grapevine. I was not listening to the news, not in a traffic jam, not late for an appointment, in fact nothing was actually happening to which I could attribute the labor pains in my body. It made me think of our Hebrew Testament text from 1 Samuel in which the Philistines kill tens of thousands of Israelites and steal their most sacred object, the Ark of the Covenant, a gold plated vessel containing the Law given to Moses. Unspeakably precious to the Hebrew people, the Ark is the outward and visible assurance of God’s presence with  them. Somehow my assurance of God’s presence with me was also stolen, but I have no ark and there are no Philistines to blame. There was no obvious cause for my restlessness. 


So I did what my Jesuit Spiritual Director instructed decades ago. “When something with no obvious cause on the face of the earth is stirring deep within you, pause and ask, “Is this the Spirit of God or the enemy of human consciousness?” A few miles down the road it occurred to me, it could be either. It depends on how I choose to respond. 


If I choose to experience the gut wrenching sense in my body as evidence of the enemy’s rampant success and myself as a vengeance seeking victim then like a violent tornado uprooting and destroying everything in its path, killing will continue with me and through me. But should I choose to experience my burning heart and twisted gut as a Divine invitation to labor for the glory of God, then like Eli’s newly widowed daughter-in-law I can use my words and actions to give birth to something new.


Here is the thing. Even though the treasured Ark of the Covenant may be stolen from the people, as promised by Jesus in John’s gospel, God’s presence is restored to all by “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.” As an outward and visible assurance of God’s presence with us, like the Ark of the Covenant, Jesus is about to be stolen from this earth but like Moses law secured in the ark, the wisdom he teaches is written on the pages of our hearts and this cannot be stolen.  


Returning to the person who came to my office and  lamented,“I am weeping for  the way things used to be and racked with fear for what may come,”  I would like to suggest that one thing is missing from their sentiment. The present moment. Grief is for the past. Fear is for the future. But the present moment is what is real and it demands just one thing, consent. 


What is consent? Consent means saying “Yes,” to reality as it is. Consent does not presume we approve or prefer things the way they are. Consent does not mean we escape risk. Consent is saying “Yes” to the present moment as exemplified by the fourteen year old unmarried peasant girl Mary who, when the Angel announces, “You will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son… and he will be great,” consents declaring, “Let it be with me according to your word."  (Luke 1.26-38) 


Thirty two years later Mary’s son consents to pick up his cross and submit to unspeakable suffering. Sweating fear in the face of his impending crucifixion, Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)


Consent is saying “Yes” to reality as it is which means, we make ourselves indifferent. As Eric Clayton writes in his book, Cannonball Moments,* indifference is not about apathy, uncaring, bitterness or giving up. In this context indifference is better understood as detachment, refusing to judge everything as it appears on the horizon of our lives. “Not preferring  health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, long life to short life.”*  By refusing to judge the present moment as good or bad, desirable or undesirable, deserved or undeserved we experience interior freedom, a spaciousness within which we can choose how we want to respond rather than react and become slaves to the situation or our emotional state. 


As long as we react to external circumstances or our interior emotional state, we are not free. We are not free to discern wisdom written on our hearts. We are not free to experience God with us, not free to act for the glory of God. And when we are not free we live in fear.


Here is the thing. Something new is always preceded by labor pains. An acorn must fall to the ground, freeze and crack before a tender shoot emerges and gives rise to a glorious oak tree. The muscles of a woman’s uterus contract as pain sears her abdomen, groin and back until she strains with every ounce of her being to push something new into the world. 


When we consent to restlessness, unsettledness, pain, even suffering rather than seek quick antidotes (think drugs, alcohol, obsessive compulsive doing whatever, looking for someone to blame) there is every chance we will find our selves stepping across a threshold into an expanded experience of freedom, freedom to be more whole and more holy, freedom to act for the glory of God.  


Dear people of God, it is time for us to evolve from living in fear to living in freedom regardless of our circumstance. When we feel on edge with ourselves or with the world even though nothing is actually happening in the present moment, we pause, ask ourselves, “Is this the Spirit of God or the enemy of human consciousness?” then we choose how we will tell our story. 


*  Puhl, S.J., Louis J (1951). The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Loyola University Press. p12.

** Clayton, Eric A. (2022) Cannonball Moments: Telling your Story Deepening Your Faith. Loyola University Press. p128.



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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Gospel Text for Sunday 3 July 2022


Luke 16.10-13          “The woman or man who is faithful with little is faithful also with much; and the woman or man who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you all have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will trust you with [what is] true? And if you all have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”



Reflection         


Continuing in the tradition of our Israelite ancestors, from its founding the United States has recognized her dependence on God, which means our mission as “We the people” depends on moral considerations established in our relationship with God. 


Principles guide our actions and our actions establish our identity. As the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes in The Politics of Responsibility, “You are free to do what you choose but actions have consequences. You cannot overeat and take no exercise, and at the same time stay healthy. You cannot act selfishly and win the respect of other people. You cannot allow injustices to prevail and sustain a cohesive society. You cannot let rulers use power for their own ends without destroying the basis of a free and gracious social order. There is nothing mystical about these ideas. They are eminently intelligible. But they are also, and inescapably, moral.”


“We the people” are meant to be righteous, respectable and trustworthy.  Moral. “We the people” cannot be “We the people” when our primary concern is me and my advantage. A wealth serving union governed by folks obsessed with the acquisition of personal property and power forgets its moral obligation to the common good. As our gospel text from Luke declares, we “cannot serve God and wealth.” To rectify this situation we must hold ourselves and our institutions accountable, responsible. However this should not and must not mean indulging in limitless litigation. 


Rather than looking for liability we will be better served requiring responsibility. Responsibility means satisfying or fulfilling our moral role as part of “We the people.” How are we doing?   fulfilling our moral role as “We the people” of God?


On this the eve of the celebration of the Independence of the United States, according to our Constitution, the responsibility of “We the people” is to be “a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”  It is the responsibility of “We the people” to serve something more than wealth, something more than our immediate individual interests and assets.  How else can we establish justice? How else can we insure domestic tranquility? How else can we promote the general welfare that we claim in our Constitution?  Or are we hypocrites?


The United States Constitution with its twenty seven amendments is not intended to be an axe we employ to divide and destroy. The United States Constitution recognizes all people as “We the people” meant to live with moral responsibility for the well being of one another and a commitment to be “a more perfect (moral) union.”


This is a wildly audacious idea. It is nothing less than our forbearers’ call for all generations to persist in being the Kingdom of God on earth, “A more perfect (moral) union.”    


“A more perfect union” is much more than a list of civil rights. It is a pattern and purpose fashioned in the tradition of our Israelite ancestors.  The United States Constitution insists our body politic is not about individual preferences or even individual survival.  It is about leading a righteous, respectable and trustworthy life together. Government is meant to be the context within which “We the people” cooperate to cultivate the good life of a “more perfect union.” Government is meant to serve “We the people.” Not the other way around.


The heart of the Constitution is community in relationship with God. At our best “We the people” stand with our feet planted in high moral ground. Our interest is not in assigning liability for particular events but rather in taking responsibility to establish a context that sustains the common good. 


Dear people of God, the Bible tells us we cannot serve both wealth and God but I say, if we hope to cultivate the good life together we must move beyond this dualistic way of framing our lives. Our individuality and self care are essential aspects of being a person. Likewise our participation in community aimed for the common good is a condition of our humanity.  I believe we must expand our narrative and grow beyond the false dichotomy of me versus them, conservative versus liberal. We must make our story big enough to be “We the people,” a more perfect union revealing the Kingdom of God on earth. 


How are we to do this? I believe the invitation is threefold. 

First, move beyond selfishness while sustaining self care by seeking moderation and balance in all things. (Especially suitable to us Episcopalians and our via media, the messy middle way!)


Second, inoculate ourselves against polarizing political ploys by avoiding extreme rhetoric meant to confound reason and inflame emotion,. Just turn that off and listen carefully to find common ground with folks of differing opinions. (For God’s Sake, Listen!)


Third, put our trust in something more that we call God and do whatever it takes to be righteous, respectable and trustworthy in our God given relationships as “We the People” of God. 

Fourth, remember "We are free to do what we choose but actions have consequences." 


**https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/bechukotai/the-politics-of-responsibility/ 


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