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Gospel Reflection for April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday

14 Apr

Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and found that Jesus was missing. She could not find him and was crying.

Jesus asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?Mary supposed the man to be the gardener and responded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Mary turned to Jesus and answered, “Rabbouni!”

 John 20.15-16
via flickr user Elvert Barnes

via flickr user Elvert Barnes


Mary Magdalene is the first of all of Jesus’ followers to have a personal experience of the risen Jesus. When Jesus speaks Mary’s name, she recognizes the gardener is her beloved teacher. Like the sheep who knows the shepherd’s voice, Mary hears her name and recognizes Jesus. She hears, turns, and believes.

When has Jesus called you by name?

Gospel Reflection for April 13, 2014, Palm/Passion Sunday

7 Apr

About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud tone, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”  This means, “My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27.46


The events of the passion test and manifest Jesus’ love for God, for the world, for his friends, and for the community that still gathers in his name.  Jesus endures not only the pain and shame of crucifixion but one friend’s betrayal, another’s denial, and God’s seeming abandonment.

When have you found Jesus with you in times of betrayal or suffering or seeming abandonment?

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How To Claim Jesus Today

2 Apr

John 18: 1-27 tells the story of Judas betraying Jesus followed by Peter denying Jesus. Three time over, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples denies that he knows Jesus. It was an intense scene that was escalating – Jesus was being questioned by the high priest and started being beaten by the police. To claim to know Jesus was to welcome trouble. Peter decided to avoid conflict by distancing himself from Jesus, the one in the center of the storm. “Nope, I don’t know him.”

I looked at this passage with a group of high school students. The young people identified with Peter.

“It’s way cooler to be an atheist than to believe in Jesus at my school,” one young man admitted. “A lot of the kids who say they are atheist don’t really know what that means. They just don’t want people to think they are religious and go to church.”

Another added, “Yeah, the vocal Christians at our school are homophobic, and that just isn’t cool. I don’t want to be grouped with those kids. It’s easier to pretend to not believe in Jesus at all.” (“Nope, I don’t know him.”)

Our context was public high schools in Minneapolis, but they also saw themes reflected on the national stage.

On March 20, Fred Phelps died. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955. The church is most famous for picketing more than 53,000 events with signs that say things like, “God Hates Fags.” Phelps rose to national notoriety in 1998, when Westboro members picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was tortured and murdered because he was gay. He claimed natural and human-made disasters are God’s punishment for the acceptance of gay people and thought homosexuals should be put to death. His recent death brought his legacy back into the media. People responses were polarizing: silence, anger, sadness and joy.

On March 24th, World Vision announced it would begin to hire people in same-sex marriages. The announcement caused a backlash among conservative donors. On March 26th, World Vision reversed its decision. Richard Stearns asked donors who had pulled their funding to “forgive our poor judgment in the original decision. We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.” The initial decision and the decision to reverse the policy was polarizing. Who is right? Who loses? What would Jesus say? The name calling, divisions and anger from all sides on social media were deafening.

In a recent post, Jon Huckins writes, “I’m not against healthy dialog, disagreement or even conflict. I’m actually quite for it. The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom.”

Today, Christianity is getting press for publicly fighting about gay marriage maybe more than any other thing. The high schoolers feel it. I feel it. And we were all a little sympathetic to Peter, who just wanted to side step the controversy through denying his love for Jesus altogether. What I heard from the students is a desire to exist in a world beyond black and white, beyond right and wrong, bigger than this one issue. They wanted to be able to claim their faith without being put in a constricting box. They want to change the discourse and ask a whole new set of questions that reflect the ministry of Jesus. Where some of their friends have given up, they are hanging on, but often in secret. Our work continues to be creating space for people to read the gospel together and form subversive community that are committed to the truth. To be brave, claim Jesus, and address the areas of brokenness in our world. To seek to know Jesus and be able to say, “Yep, I know him.” For Peter and for us, it’s hard work, it’s a little scary, but it’s also good.

 

Gospel Reflection for April 6, 5th Sunday of Lent

31 Mar

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though they will die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha responded, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the messiah, the son of God: he who is to come into the world.”

John 11.25-27


Lazarus died before Jesus arrived to see him. When Martha and Mary meet Jesus, they each say, “Lord if you had been here, my brother never would have died.”  The repetition tells us this statement is important. Martha and Mary raise a question in the life of the early Christian community in which many expected Jesus to return in glory within their lifetimes.

Jesus’ delay in the story provides the reason for his dialog with Martha, who speaks the faith of the community that experienced this delay in history. Her brother’s death tests and transforms Martha’s faith.

Before what graves have you stood and asked as Martha and Mary do, “Why didn’t you save the one we love?”

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Seeing Anew in Lent

27 Mar

In this week’s Gospel from John 9, we hear the story of the man blind since birth who Jesus heals. Using earthy language that helps us to feel like eyewitnesses to the scene, the gospel writer tells us that Jesus “spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,” then told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool. Once he had done so, the man was able to see for the first time in his life. In the aftermath of this miracle, the man’s neighbors do not believe it is him, and then Pharisees throw him out of the temple, insisting that he still is a sinner (since in Jesus’ time physical impairments like blindness were thought to be the result of sin). Hearing that this has happened to the man, Jesus seeks him out and reveals to him that he is the Son of Man, and the formerly blind man declares his belief in Jesus as Lord.

Art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

Art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

In the past two weeks, I have written about two of the three traditional Catholic Lenten practices: fasting and abstinence and almsgiving. As I read this week’s Gospel in light of my attempt to better embrace the season of Lent, I have a new image for the work that engaging in Lenten practices does for our spiritual lives. These practices of fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer (the third practice of the triad) are like the dirt and saliva mix that enable the blind man to see. Applied to our lives this Lent, these practices help us see anew and continue to support our ability and desire to profess our belief in God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our sanctifier.

Here is a simple example: Last Friday, our family was traveling to Iowa to visit relatives. As we prepared to stop for lunch at the place we always stop along our route, a restaurant that specializes in meat, we remembered it was Lent. This led us to ask Siri where we could order a fish sandwich close by. Certainly, this small decision about lunch did not change our lives. However, even this relatively simple process of breaking our normal habit did get me thinking about the easy access to food I usually enjoy and the wide variety of food that I eat. While I was choosing among a plethora of decent options for lunch that day, millions of people in the United States and around the world were going hungry. For people living in poverty, fasting may not be a choice, but rather a forced option. For those living in food deserts, an area in which there is little or no access to affordable, fresh, and healthy food, they may be forced to eat fast food or food from convenience stores (two options that are a treat for me on a road trip, not a necessity) that do not provide proper nutrition. When I voluntarily fast or abstain from meat, it helps me recognize the hunger and suffering of others in a new way and inspires me to search for ways to demonstrate Christ’s love in the world—from donating food to food shelves to writing letters to politicians to support just economic and political structures that enable people to provide food for their families.

Similarly, the practices of almsgiving and prayer also help us see our lives anew in Lent. As we make decisions about where to give our money and how much to give, we may have occasion to examine our finances, to see what heart of our family life is revealed by where our treasure goes. When we give away some of our money, we may better remember that the treasure we accumulate on earth is not what will bring us happiness today, nor what will bring us salvation at the end of our days. When we pray, we recognize that we are not the gods of our own lives and put our trust in the ways in which God cares for us, for all human beings, and the whole of creation. When we pray, we honor God as God and allow ourselves to be open to God’s vision for our lives and for our world.

May it be that this Lent we are willing to get our eyes dirty, as we apply the muddy practices of fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer to our lives. May it be that when we wash our eyes in the pool of Easter joy, we will realize we have already begun to see anew.

Gospel Reflection for March 30, 2014, 4th Sunday of Lent

24 Mar
Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. The Pharisees questioned the man as to who could perform this miracle. The man said he did not know, but the person capable of such things must come from God. This outraged the Pharisees. Jesus heard about this and went to the man born blind.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man answered, “Tell me who he is, so I can believe in him.”
Jesus responded, “You have already seen him. He is speaking to you now.”
“I believe, Jesus,” said the man.


John 9.35-38

Sunday’s gospel begins as a miracle but continues as a faith drama, a series of scenes in which a man born blind explains to neighbors and teachers how he got his sight and who this person is who gave him his sight. As the man tells his story, he sees with increasing clarity who Jesus is.

How have your eyes been opened? How did you receive your sight?

 

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Gospel Reflection for March 16, 2014, 2nd Sunday of Lent

10 Mar
via flickr user Horia Varlan

via flickr user Horia Varlan

Jesus was transfigured in front of his disciples.
Out of the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests.  Listen to him.”

Matthew 17.5

 His transfiguration takes place just after Jesus tells his disciples for the first time he will suffer, die, and rise on the third day.  This awakening to Jesus’ suffering moves the disciples from ordinary to sacred time.

In his transfiguration the disciples see Jesus as both divine and vulnerable, belonging to both heaven and earth, residing in both ordinary and extraordinary worlds.  His transfiguration terrifies his followers, but Jesus touches them gently and tells them not to fear.

This vision disturbs their lives.  The solid ground on which they stand shifts.  They move from ordinary space to sacred space, from mundane to mystery.

When has an awakening transformed your past and future?

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Praying Away the Anxiety Spiral

4 Mar

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

                                                    –Matthew 6:27

A few weeks ago, I came upstairs from starting a load of laundry to find my five-year-old face down, asleep on the couch at 5 p.m. If you knew my son, this would strike you as unusual, since he is the sort of kid who goes hard all day long, only stopping to relax when we finally force him into bed at night. Thinking, “It must have been a tiring week at school,” I started preparing dinner.

A few hours later, as we cuddled in bed reading books, my son told me his neck hurt. Thinking, “Maybe he slept funny on it on the couch,” I told him a good night’s sleep would make it feel better, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and turned out the light.

It was not until I started getting ready for bed myself, after the hustle and bustle of the day had subsided, that my brain started connecting some dots.  “A usually healthy and active boy who is suddenly tired with a sore neck… wait, isn’t there a serious illness connected with a sore neck?” These thoughts sent me to Google and then to WebMD to learn more about the signs of meningitis. I tiptoed back upstairs and into my son’s room, laying the back of my hand on his forehead to see if he had a temperature, which he did not. He was sleeping soundly and looked perfectly peaceful.

I wish I could say the same for my next few hours in bed. Despite a fairly strong intellectual sense that my son was not, in fact, sick with anything serious, I could not help but think, “What if he is ill and I do not do anything about it? What if I find him unconscious in the morning… or worse? What kind of mother would I be?” I was in an anxiety spiral, with negative, unlikely, and even macabre thoughts stacking upon each other and driving me upstairs multiple times to stick my hand in front of my son’s nose to feel the warm breath that signaled his life. Eventually, by what felt like some quotidian miracle, it occurred to me that the only thing to do was to pray. So I recited the Serenity Prayer over and over until I eventually fell into a restless sleep.

At a time when anxiety seems to be on the rise in our society, we might chuckle at Jesus’ rhetorical question in this week’s Gospel as to whether any of us can add a minute to our lives by worrying. Certainly, we know in our heads that worrying will not lengthen our lives (and we likely have been exposed to countless articles telling us that it actually will have the opposite effect), but we might also question in our hearts whether we will still be good parents, partners, employees, citizens, and people if we attempt to put an end to the anxiety spirals. Will the world still spin if we ourselves stop spinning in anxiety?

Jesus’ answer to this is very clear: the world will go on even if we stop worrying since it is God who controls the world in the first place, not us. Easy enough to say, harder to live into. In my experience, this is where prayer comes in. The act of praying invokes a greater power in the universe, reminding us that we are only human and in control of very little in our lives. Far from increasing our anxiety, prayer can help us identify that which we can change in our lives and in our world and that which we need to give over to God for safe keeping. Maybe with Lent approaching we all need to strive to give up  and give over to God some of our needless worrying and to redirect our energy to strengthening our relationship to God, the One whom Jesus assures us will provide for our needs.

Gospel Reflection for March 9, 1st Sunday of Lent

4 Mar

Jesus said, “Scripture says, ‘Not by bread alone do people live but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4.4

Jesus lives by God’s word not by bread alone.  He refuses to put God to the test.  He worships God alone, the first commandment.  His testimony calls us to welcome and chew on God’s word this Lent and resist popular images of success.

What images of success have you tested and found false in your life?

Gospel Reflection for March 2nd, 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

25 Feb

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.  People who try either hate one and love the other or pay attention to one and despise the other.  You cannot give yourself to God and money.”

 Matthew 6:24

Sunday’s gospel begins with a generic saying: No one can serve two masters.  What makes the saying memorable is its one-two punch—one can’t serve two.  Also the statement is absolute—no one can serve two.  The no sets our mind scrambling for an exception, testing its truth.  In the end, the gospel names its own specific conflict.  You can’t give yourself to God and money.

What conflicts do you experience between God and money?

 

via flickr user jeffweese

via flickr user jeffweese

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