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Gospel Reflection for April 19, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Easter

14 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 3.13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2.1-5; Luke 24.35-48

Jesus stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” His disciples were startled and terrified…He said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet, that it is I myself.”

(Luke 24.36-39)

In Sunday’s resurrection scene from Luke, some believe, some question, some suspend judgement. For his disciples Jesus’ resurrection recalibrates who God is and what God does in our world.

Our time also puts God in new contexts and stirs mixed emotions. Some cling to past certainties. Many disaffiliate from institutional religions. Church scandals have sent many Catholics into the ranks of the none-affiliated. Others retreat from doctrines built on worldviews people today no longer hold.

Some of us stay and seek fresh insights in dialogue with science, technology, and other religions. We recognize that evolution doesn’t conflict with faith but our image of God as fixed and static seems inadequate in an evolving world. God is more than we previously imagined. God’s creative love unfolds dynamically from inanimate to living and conscious creatures. It’s a wow and a wonder. God addresses us as much from the future as the past.

My own faith in resurrection rests not only on the gospel testimony of the first witnesses but my experience of being with my mother in her last days. Her spirit became increasingly transparent in her body. This and creation itself keeps me open to the impossible coming to be.

What is the mix of your feelings this Easter season — amazement, joy, disbelief?

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3rd Week of Easter

14 Apr
Photo via Flickr user AshtonPal

Photo via Flickr user AshtonPal

“Do you love me?” – John 21.17

Three times the risen Jesus asks his friend and disciple Peter the question, “Do you love me?” Perhaps Jesus asks three times because Peter denied Jesus three times. Live your answer to Jesus’ question this week. Testify in your actions that you love those with whom Jesus identifies in this world.

Give a gift of attentive, uninterrupted listening this week to two people — the one you love most and one very different from you, perhaps foreign in culture. Remember each evening ways your actions said, “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Prayer for the Week: You know that I love you.

2nd Week of Easter

7 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Mark Sardella

Photo via Flickr user Mark Sardella

“Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!” – John 20.27

Most of us doubt at times in our lives. We doubt faith matters or can change the world. We sometimes doubt that we ourselves, or people we love, or religious institutions can respond to the renewing Spirit.

Identify a specific doubt you carry. Ask for the guidance of the Spirit to resolve the doubt or to live into a new insight. Seek insight by walking and observing creation awakening to new life.

Prayer for the Week: I believe. Help my unbelief.

Gospel Reflection for April 12, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Easter

6 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 4.32-35; 1 John 5.1-6; John 19-31

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

(John 20.21-23)

The risen Jesus brings his disciples two gifts — peace and new life. Jesus breathes the new life of the Spirit upon his disciples just as in the beginning God breathed the spirit of life into the first earthling in Genesis 2.7. The new life Jesus’ Spirit inspires is forgiveness. The gifts become a commission. Jesus sends the community out to make the lives of others whole as he has made their lives new and whole.

When have you found new life in forgiving or being forgiven?

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Are We Rome?

3 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

 

Happy Holy Week to you, one and all.

On Palm Sunday, we imagined Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We wondered what this procession of palms may have looked like. Was it to fulfill a prophecy? How many people caught the reference to Zachariah in the moment? Was it, as Crossan and Borg argue in The Last Week, a procession to challenge the Imperial Procession of Pilate and counter the dominating system? Pilate’s procession symbolized Roman military, theology and political might. Was Jesus reminding us that God’s kingdom counters that of worldly domination?

Did Jesus know what he would find when he got to the temple?

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers. –Matthew 21:12-23

We imagine Jesus turning over tables and try to reconcile his anger with our ideas of his perfection. What, today, is worth our righteous anger? Are we complicit in the dominating system of our day that Jesus was countering by riding in from the East on a donkey?

On Palm Sunday, the youth in our congregation make and sell Cinnamon Rolls in celebration of Holy Week and to raise money for our summer work trips. We pictured Jesus, having to pass our table where money was being exchanged on his way to the sanctuary for worship. Would he turn over our table and call our gallery a den of robbers?

“I’d like to think Jesus would buy a cinnamon roll from us,” a ninth grader said.

Yet the image lingers. Would Jesus turn over my table in anger? This Holy Week, I’m wondering what procession I am truly taking part in. If Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem to die was really about, in part, countering the violence, power and glory of the dominating empire that ruled the world at that time, how can I follow him more closely today?

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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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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