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Gospel Reflection for April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday

31 Mar

Sunday Readings: Acts 10.34,37-43; Colossians 3.1-4 (Easter Vigil: Mark 16.1-7);  John 20.1-9 (10-18)

“I have seen the Lord,” Mary Magdalene announces to the community of Jesus’ disciples when she returns from encountering her Teacher on Easter morning (John 20.18). Jesus sends her as the apostle to the apostles to tell them, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” We share Jesus’ relationship with God. That’s a wow.

Personally I am a late comer to relationship with Jesus. It is creation that awakened me to divine presence in the world—in the flowering ditches of my childhood and the meadows of mountain hikes.  It is the wonder of seeds sprouting, rooting, growing, multiplying that grounds my faith. In my deepest adult experience of God it is the Spirit I found underlying my existence, affirming I was okay.

Jesus lives his life so fast. He encounters opposition as soon as he opens his mouth in Galilee. Although he prays that God take the cup of suffering from him, he faces it. In the three short last days he makes bread and wine signs of his wholehearted self-giving; he undergoes the pain and humiliation of his passion, and dies on the cross.

However, now that I am older and go to funerals for family and more frequently, I see the Lord in lives lived long and slowly, lives poured out over years of days for spouses and children, for the good of neighbor and the common civic good.

I watched sisters in their 90s walk slowly into the Vespers that welcomed the Vatican visitors to our congregation. These women have poured out their lives endlessly for the work of the gospel and aren’t done yet. They were among the women the Vatican was investigating and in whom I see the Lord.

In whom have you seen the Lord?

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Rocking

26 Mar
Photo via Flickr user McBeth

Photo via Flickr user McBeth

Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days. –Genesis 7:23-24

The Noah story is a little terrifying. I mean, God gets angry at humankind and sends a flood to destroy everyone except Noah’s family. That is not a light plot line. Herbert Brokering, however, In Love, Dad: Letters of Faith to my Children, sees a different angle:

Rocking is the story of Noah’s family in the flood…inside the womb of the ark they rocked…This ancient Bible story is about being safe…

Safe? I always read the story and got stuck on the destruction, the anger, the death. I never spent enough time on the boat with Noah to read the story and see God rocking Noah. But now that I have read it, I can’t get the image out of my mind.For 150 days God rocked Noah. Brokering goes on from God rocking Noah to Brokering himself rocking his children:

O how we held you when we rocked you. You clung to us, we rocked each other…I believe rocking is in part of us all. It is how we stayed alive in our mother. Nine months we rocked.

He explains the different rocking chairs they had at home and how each child liked to be rocked a little differently. I picture him, as a father, rocking his babies with patience, attention and care. I can’t read this without crying. It’s true. I rock my baby and my baby rocks me back. We rock each other. I know just how he likes to be rocked. When I slow dance with my husband, it feels like rocking. When I am tired, or grieving, needing comfort or affection, I rock. We learn it in our mothers’ wombs and it never leaves us, the rhythm of rocking.

I pretend God has a rocker.

The image of God with a rocker is so tender it breaks something open in me. It presents God not as Father, but as daddy. Or mommy. And the tenderness in the image is almost too much to bear. I think I, too, will pretend God has a rocker.

Gospel Reflection for March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday

24 Mar

Sunday Readings: Mark 11.1-10; Isaiah 50.4-7; Philippians 2.6-11; Mark 14.1-15.47

“When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve…. While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is pour out for many.  I will never drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God'”.

(Mark 14.17, 22-25)

 Jesus refers to sharing the cup as a covenant, a new agreement about our relationship with God.  Ancient Israel ratified its covenant in blood, signifying that the people pledged with their lives to keep the terms of the covenant, the ten commandments.  The community that tells Jesus’ story understands his gestures at the last supper as a new covenant that expresses his willingness to love them unto death.

What do you promise with your life?

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The Common Good

20 Mar

Our church’s theme for Lent is The Good Life. We are looking at parables in Matthew, full of people searching for The Good Life, and Jesus often flipping expectations on their head: the last will be first, surely the rich will struggle entering the kingdom, I dwell among the least of these. We too, like the people in Matthew’s Gospel, are all searching for The Good Life, and often mistake values in this world with what God values in the next.

 

A video series on the Good Life is accompanying worship, and with the camera rolling, I got asked what I think the Good Life is. I talked about balance: striving for balance between my introverted self and my extraverted self, between my mind, body and spirit, between my personal/private life and professional/public life. I talked about being mindful, living fully in the present moment and fully engaging in the stage of life I am currently in, not wishing away moments or pining for the past.

 

“Okay, thanks so much,” the videographer said. “That was great.”

 

Hours later, I was still thinking about what he captured me saying on video. I came to realize what was bothering me was what I didn’t say. My answer was self-centered. My idea of The Good Life, at least the part caught on tape, was all about me. It was individual, personal self-improvement. So were most people’s answers, actually. An eighth grader, for example, succinctly stated the American Dream as The Good Life: “I want to graduate college, get a good job, have my own house, and raise kids to be successful.” A man in his seventies talked about striving in his life to achieve his goals. Maybe it is the default of humans, or our society’s obsession with self reliance and independence, but the instinct to go personal when building The Good Life is undeniable. 

It could be argued that personal work is a good place to start, but I don’t believe it is the place to end. I believe, deep down, that my own joy and well-being is tied up in the joy and well-being of all people. I do believe that I am only doing as well as the least of these. If given another shot, I would have focused my answer about The Good Life on The Common Good.

 

Darwin tells us that natural selection operates on the individual level. I pass my genes on to my son, and it is easy to fall into the trap of caring so much about my immediate family that I do not look further to the health of my community. With a three-month-old baby, I do feel this way at times. There is a strong element of survival, that turning inward to protect my child has an undeniable biological element to it. I love my child so fiercely that it can be consuming. At the end of the day, I think, “Well, I kept this human being alive today. That’s probably enough.” We take care of our own, and we define our own narrowly.

 

However, Darwin also saw that civilization works on the tribal level. Groups of people who work together and value the common good outlive groups of people who work as isolated individuals. One person might not be able to successfully hunt a predator, but a group of people working together can. Community matters for our own good. 

I agree with Lord Jonathan Sacks when he says:

Community is the antidote to individualism on the one hand and over-reliance on the state on the other.

He goes on to say that church is still one place in society where we believe in and act out The Common Good:

Frequent worshippers are also significantly more active citizens. They are more likely to belong to community organisations, neighbourhood and civic groups and professional associations. They get involved, turn up and lead. The margin of difference between them and the more secular is large. When we celebrate or mourn we do so as a community. Even when we confess, we do so together. We find God in community. We develop virtue, strength of character, and a commitment to the common good in community. Community is local. It is society with a human face. It is not government. It is not the people we pay to look after the welfare of others. It is the work we do ourselves, together.

Worshipping together, with a group who would otherwise be strangers, builds community. Church is still a place where people can come together and create community that will act together for The Common Good. Worshipping together turns out outward, reminding us of The Common Good as a main component of The Good Life.

Gospel Reflection for March 22, 2015, 5th Sunday of Lent

16 Mar

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 5.7-9; John 12.22-33

“The hour has come in which the Son of Man will be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it will be bear much fruit.”

(John 12.23-24)

In John’s gospel the hour of Jesus’ death is the moment when God will glorify Jesus’ name. A dynamic process begins, a passing over, a planting that will bear fruit a hundred fold. In being lifted up — first on the cross and ultimately from the tomb — Jesus will draw all people to himself.

At the heart of Christian faith is Jesus’ life-giving resurrection from his self-giving death. In death Jesus entrusts his life to God, the same life-giving Creator that hides the promise of new life in seeds. Jesus’ imminent death will no more be an end than Lazarus’s death was or than the planting of a seed is.

What is the hour in which you are living right now?

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Gospel Reflection for March 15, 2015, 4th Sunday of Lent

10 Mar

Sunday Readings: 2 Chronicles 36.14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2.4-10; John 3.14-21

“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have life forever.”

(John 3.16)

Jesus’ mission is not to condemn the world but to save it. He calls us who believe in him to do likewise. Like Nicodemus, we find this hard to understand. We are accustomed to the harsh realities of our world, such as terrorism, collateral damage, market forces, corporate downsizing, beheadings. We take the daily condemnation and crucifixion of millions of our fellow human beings for granted. But, as Nicodemus eventually does, we, too, by the grace of God, can leave our destructive deeds behind and come to the foot of the cross to stand in the light of the one like us who lifted us up. We can begin now to see God’s kingdom in our midst and live the new life Jesus brings.

Who can I or we take down from their crosses? Whose sorrow and pain can we help nurse?

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Forgiveness

5 Mar
Photo via Flickr user Quantumlars

Photo via Flickr user Quantumlars

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. –Matthew 18: 23-35

Ok, nothing like a light, cheery story to start your day. The only comfort we can find in this passage, amidst the throwing people into prison and the handing people over to be tortured is that fact that it’s a parable. The allegory is clear. We’re the slaves, and it’s not going to go over well with God if we don’t forgive the people in our lives. But maybe Jesus doesn’t expect us to take the parable literally? We hope?

We can get lost in the weeds, digging into the details here: A talent is a whole heck of a lot more than a denarius, so the Lord is forgiving a much larger debt than the slave refuses to forgive his peer. We could muse about how hard it is to ask for patience from other people, how humiliating it is to admit that we need more time, more help, more money. But we can only skirt around the last two verses for so long. This forgiveness thing is serious. Scary serious.

So he means it—that we are actually supposed to do the impossible– forgiving not just seven times but seven times seven. Or in other words, always, all the time. Perhaps Jesus wants to blow our hair back a bit here with this violent parable because of those last two words—your heart. It is your heart on the line. Refusing to forgive, as the Buddha points out, is like grasping hot coal to throw at another. It is the throwers hand that gets burned. Holding onto hurt hurts us. Forgiving is our healing work, too. When we are brave enough to forgive from our own heart, it is our heart that is changed. That heart change frees us to live more fully, to love more fiercely, to know God more closely.

Forgiveness is the way out. It opens up a whole new future full of possibility. The landowner shows the slave the way out, but he doesn’t choose to follow. God shows us the way by forgiving us every day. Then, God invites us to give it a try, to find freedom in letting go of the need to keep score, letting go of the anger inside of us. We’ll fall short. Of course. We’re human. But the more we ask for God’s patience and recognize that we are shown mercy, the more courageous we can be to have a change of heart ourselves.

Gospel Reflection for March 8, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Lent

3 Mar

Sunday Readings: Exodus 20.1-17; 1 Corinthians 1.22-25; John 2.13-25

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

(John 2.16)

Jesus’ cleansing the temple calls us to clean our houses this Lent — to examine our hearts. Our fast-paced, productive lives can erode our relationships with God, make us feel like cogs in the wheels of commerce rather than friends of God, who live and love in friendship with the Giver of Life. Coffee and conversation can help us reengage with those we love. Walks in the emerging spring can reawaken our connectedness to all that is, our place in the holy whole that is our Earth home. They can stir us to get practical about caring for creation where we live. Lent calls us to assess what we consume and what consumes us. It calls us to revive our faith in resurrection as a continuing process in our lives.

What housecleaning do you need to do in our life? How can we help clean up our biosphere so life on Earth becomes sustainable? What is one thing you can do?

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Dust

27 Feb
Photo via Flickr user John

Photo via Flickr user John

Our church has three Ash Wednesday services, one of which is a family service. The children’s choir sings, and the pastor sets a bowl of palms on fire during the sermon, burning them into ashes. Each family is given a Lenten daily devotional book full of prayers created by children. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Families come up together to receive a blessing, and then the family members place ashes on each other. I stood at a station blessing families, watching them remind each other of their dust-i-ness. As families filed up to the altar, the sanctuary was charged with love, affection, humility, mindfulness and a touch of melancholy.

My spouse approached my station with our sleeping three-month old son in his arms. I started crying while blessing us:

Holy God, we praise you for sending your Son into the world to show us how much you love us. Bless us with your grace and strengthen us in faith, now and always. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

I continued crying as I placed my pointer finger into the bowl of ashes and made the sign of the cross on his little forehead:

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Dan and I exchange ashes, and I was filled with gratitude for this life we are given, this moment of consciousness together on earth as the dust brought our mortality undeniably into focus. I was not filled with fear of our dust-i-ness, but filled with wonder of the depth of goodness that occurs between dust and dust.

Just a year ago, I sat by myself during the family service, watching parents place ashes on their children’s foreheads. I didn’t go up to a station to get blessed. I didn’t want to place ashes on myself. I waited for the next service that wasn’t so focused on children. We were living in the grief of two miscarriages, and exhausted, sad and lonely, I leaned hard on God. Alone in the pew, I laid my heart bare to God. It was an Ash Wednesday and Lent that felt comforting, appropriate, raw and honest to me in my melancholy, in my grief. We are dust. We are human. We are dependent, like children, on our God.

I kissed my baby’s warm, soft cheek before they returned to their pew, and my heart sang with joy. Here is this person, given to us to care for for a short time. He is such a gift, and the ashes on his forehead, sitting right between his bright blue eyes on his tiny, innocent face reminded us that there was nothing and now there is something, and that something is so good. It reminded us of our need for God who gives us life now and promises life for us forever.

Gospel Reflection for March 1, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Lent

24 Feb

Sunday Readings: Genesis 22.1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8.31-34; Mark 9.2-10

“Suddenly looking around, Peter, James, and John no longer saw anyone with them — only Jesus.”

(Mark 9.8)

The Orthodox Church sees in the transfiguration what the whole of Christian life is about — transformation into Christ. Prayer leads to transforming communion with God. This mystical experience to the prophetic; communion leads to action.

Both Jesus and his disciples need the profound, prayerful heartening of the transfiguration moment to sustain them on the journey to Jerusalem and beyond. Life at the foot of the mountain will test the vision.

What vision for your Christian future are you testing at the foot of the mountain?

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