Gospel Reflection for February 1, 2015, 4th Sunday Ordinary Time

26 Jan

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 18.15-20; 1 Corinthians 7.32-35; Mark 1.21-28

Just then there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”

(Mark 1.23-24)

All of us have the work of discerning the spirits that drive us. What possesses us? Maybe ambition, an advanced degree, a higher-paying job. Alcohol or chocolate or drugs can possess us, becoming a comfort in our stress more perfect and pliant than any human friend. The unclean spirits are right to ask Jesus if he has come to destroy them. The answer is yes. Jesus claims us for wholeness.

What clamors for attention in yourself? What erodes your energy? What enlivens you?

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The God of Losers

23 Jan

Before his NFL playoff game on Sunday, January 18, Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, tweeted:

“All my hope is in You Jesus! You are my anchor that is never shaken!”

His team trailed the entire game by as many as sixteen points. With a few minutes left in the game, the Packers were winning 19-7. In what seemed like an inspired flurry of adrenaline, Wilson led the charge that tied the game in regulation and forced an overtime. In the extra time, Wilson threw a thirty-five yard touchdown to send his team to the Superbowl. He gathered with a few staff and players to pray on the field after the game, and in the post-game celebration, he tweeted:

“Headed back to the Super Bowl!!!! QBs in the House! Glory to God! One Mission. #MakeThemNotice.”

In a post game interview, he thanked God for the win and said he never lost faith, never doubted. He believes God prepared him and his team for this type of situation. As a Christian myself, I reacted to all of this God and Jesus talk surrounding the playoff game. I believe that God created Russell Wilson, and that Wilson does honor God by using his gifts to the best of his ability. I even support Wilson’s commitment to thank God and lean on something bigger than himself. I think my discomfort creeps in, however, because it could be easily misconstrued that God loves the winners more than the losers. God created Aaron Rogers, the losing quarterback, too.

Maybe Wilson would have gathered to pray and thanked God as profusely if the Seahawks had lost, but they didn’t. So what I see from the tweets coupled with the win is that what is being promoted is a God of winners. God rewards those who don’t doubt and have blind faith. That God is on the side of the winners and loves the winners and interceded for the winners. That God helped Wilson win because he is a believer. That, for me, is only part of the story, it is a theology of glory that limits our God.

The day after the Seahawks win, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Here was a believer and preacher who saw God more readily on the side of the losers. He took other Christians to task for not living out God’s call to justice. He reminded other Christians that Jesus loves all people radically.

Shortly after the death of King, Rev. Dr. James Cone birthed Black Liberation Theology. The black Jesus Cone wrote about reminds us that God is present even more intensely with the marginalized and oppressed people in society.

“God is a God that makes liberation meaningful to those who are marginalized no matter where they are. God takes on that identity of the oppressed” – Dr. James Cone

The Civil Rights Movement and the black power movement gave rise to Black Liberation Theology. Today the #BlackLivesMatter movement reminds us that King’s dream of equity is not yet fulfilled. Today, we can call on King and Cohen to remember that God is with Russell Wilson on his way to the Superbowl, yes, but God is also with the losers. God is dwelling with the most vulnerable people in society, weeping with those who weep:

“The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”      -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gospel Reflection for January 25, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

19 Jan

Sunday Readings: Jonah 3.1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7.29-31; Mark 1.14-20

Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

(Mark 1.16-17)

Mark writes the first gospel to call a new generation to faith in Jesus.  Until the Romans destroyed the temple in AD 70, Jewish Christians prayed with other Jews at the temple, offered sacrifices, and joined pilgrimages for the great feasts. Temple worship ceased as eyewitness disciples were reaching old age or had already died. The Christian community in Jerusalem fled the city during the rebellion that led to the destruction of the temple and city. How will the community hold together?

Like the generation for whom Mark wrote, Catholics today live in a Church in discontinuity with the past. The Church renewed itself and caught up with the modern world at the Second Vatican Council. We recognize the Spirit moves in all the baptized. We recognize we have obligations to the poor in the world. We dialogue with people of other Christian denominations and other religions. We text messages around the globe.

How does living Jesus’ good news make a difference for our time?

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On Kindness

15 Jan
Photo via flickr user Jennifer

Photo via Flickr user Jennifer

“The great Syracuse poet Hayden Carruth said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was mostly Love, now.”

Loving the fiction of George Saunders, I recently picked up his published graduation speech Congratulations, By The Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness. I recommend the short read. Like This is Water by David Foster Wallace or The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow, this is one to pull off the shelf now and again in hopes of self-refinement. Here, Saunders simply entices us to be more kind.

Saunders says there are three, possibly Darwinian confusions that keep us from being kind. We wrongly believe that:

1. We are central to the universe

2. We are separate from the universe

3. We are permanent

These untruths keep us from being kind and generous. There are things we can do, however, to counter these untruths. He lists education, art, prayer, conversation with friends and meditation as examples. Oh, and aging helps, too:

As we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish– how illogical, really. We come to love certain other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away. Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.

He creates an image of the self getting smaller as the love gets bigger: “YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.” And he mentions having kids as a helpful tool in this process. I can say, now caring for a newborn, that my ego has softened. My elbows and angles are rounded out a bit. I am slower, kinder. I strive and grasp and cling less. I cuddle and coo and love more. I will go a day without doing a thing to forward my agenda or promote my ego. Looking back on that day, I realize I spent it loving my baby. I know, more deeply than I did before, that I am not permanent. I am not the center of the universe, nor am I separate from the universe.

Being part of a worshipping community, at its best, does this work of helping us lean toward kindness. Church, when it is done well, reminds us of the three untruths that Saunders lists, and invites us back to the luminous place of big questions and big love, where the ego softens and kindness abounds. Once we know what it feels like to be in that place, we must nurture it and grow it so we can recognize when we stray and come back to it. That is the path, the way, the truth, the life.

Gospel Reflection for January 18, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

13 Jan

Sunday Readings: 1 Samuel 3.3-10,19; 1 Corinthians 6.13-15,17-20; John 1.35-42

John the Baptist points out Jesus to two of his disciples, Andrew and another. They  follow Jesus, who turns, sees them, and ask what they are looking for.
 Andrew said to him, “Teacher, where are you staying?” Jesus said to them, “Come and see.” They went and saw where Jesus stayed and remained with him that day.

John 1.38-39

The few hours Andrew and his friend stay with Jesus changes their lives. Afterward Andrew immediately tells his brother Peter that he has found the messiah. Encountering Jesus impels Andrew to mission, to invite others to find out who Jesus is. Jesus’ disciples stay with him as he heals, teaches, and models how to live. They follow him through misunderstanding, bewilderment, footwashing, his death. Staying with Jesus on the journey of discipleship leads to abiding in lasting love.

What spiritual practice have you stayed with in your life?  How have your grown through this practice?   

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On Gender

9 Jan
Photo via Flickr user  Christine Szeto

Photo via Flickr user Christine Szeto

There is no distinction…between male and female (Galatians 3:28).

“It’s a girl.”

My friend and her husband went in for an ultrasound last week which unveiled the sex of the baby growing in my friend’s womb. Upon hearing the news, they were filled with conflicting emotions. They admitted to us, a week later, that they were a little disappointed for a moment, and then they felt guilty for that disappointment. Almost immediately after finding out, they were excitedly considering girl names. But they are a tad bit haunted by their initial gut, snap reaction : deep down, for just a fleeting moment, they really preferred if their baby was a boy.

In our world, gender matters. It matters a lot. My friends had to fully admit this in light of their reaction to hearing, “It’s a girl.” After, when they could apply more nuanced thinking, they knew that gender wouldn’t limit their joy as parents. They would love their child so much no matter what. Her gender will not limit her from wrestling with her dad or being good at science or looking adorable in blue. Yet gender does matter in our society, so much, that part of their longer, more intense reflection about their first born went to worrying about pressures that young women tend to face more than young men in our society– a focus on looks and weight and superficial ideals of perfection. Women still tend to get paid less, hold positions of power less and are the victims of assault more often. Their hesitation was not personal so much as it was an acknowledgment that our society still is set up for life to be a little easier for men.

On our way home from dinner with these friends, my spouse and I talked about that first moment when the medical professionals uttered to us after our baby was born, “It’s a boy.” We talked about the feelings that ran through us that first moment and since, knowing that we had a son to raise. We had a baby to hold and love moments after we were informed of its sex, which helped. We could love and hold that person who happened to be a boy, and we got all wrapped up in his humanness that transcends gender. Still, we are raising him in a world where gender matters.

My instinct, I’ve noticed, is to keep using the phrase in a world where. I guess part of me believes in a world away from here where it’s different. To help explain, I recommend reading Richard Rohr’s daily meditation on gender where he claims that gender is not our ontological identity. He goes on to say that men and women are different only at a superficial level, and that our True Self goes deeper than gender:

The object and goal of all spirituality is finally the same for all genders: union, divine love, inner aliveness, soul abundance, forgiveness of offenses, and generous service to the neighbor and the world.

I love being a woman. I am loving raising a boy. And I appreciate Rohr’s challenge to define myself first as a child of God, a child of the resurrection first. He reminds us that in Christ we find unity and wholeness, not duality.

Gospel Reflection for January 11, 2015, Baptism of the Lord

7 Jan

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 55.1-11; 1 John 5.1-9; Mark 1.7-11

“You are my beloved Son.  In you I am well pleased.”

Mark 7.11

Mark’s gospel, the first to be written, begins with Jesus the adult, God’s beloved Son and servant, one with the Father and Spirit. Baptized Christians share Jesus’ identity. We are God’s beloved, whom Jesus calls to join him in the embrace of God. We are God’s servants, who share Jesus’ mission of calling all those we meet into this embrace. We are baptized into one faith, one Spirit–a communion that calls us beyond the limits of any one Christian denomination. We recognize our call to unfold Jesus’ servant story in our lives among the people of our world.

In what ways do your baptism and anointing in the Spirit challenge you to lead?

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Gospel Reflection for January 4, 2015, Epiphany

30 Dec

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 60.1-6; Ephesians 3.2-3,5-6; Matthew 2.1-12

“The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was.”

Matthew 2.9

MagiMatthew’s stories of Jesus’ birth don’t mention the manger, the swaddling clothes, the shepherds, or angels singing in the sky. Matthew gives us journeyers for whom a star in the sky sets them on an earthly journey. The great thing about being human is that we can always change.  Conversion, turning toward or turning away, is a capacity we have. We can become more and respond to mystery. We simply have to look up, see the star that is calling us, find some traveling companions, and set out. The divine awaits the seeker on every horizon.

What new horizon summons you?

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Meeting At The Light

24 Dec
Photo via Flickr user  Avital Pinnick

Photo via Flickr user Avital Pinnick

I’m always looking for places to meet, hang out and talk with people of other faith traditions. Figurative places and literal places. One of my dearest friends, when we both lived in New York, invited me to her Shabbat table on Fridays as a literal place to meet, hang out, and talk about faith and life. Now she lives in Michigan and I live in Minnesota, and we still find figurative places to meet. Right now, we are meeting around the idea of light. She recently transitioned from a work trip in sunny Ethiopia to the dark winter of Michigan and resonated with my Advent posts about light. She is in the season of Hanukkah, and said this:

This year the idea of Hanukkah – literally meaning rededication – is much more striking – a rededication to each other, to faith, to life, to hope. Lighting a candle in these dark days is so important. By Jewish law, the Hanukkah candle is not to be used for anything else – you are not to use it to read something by or sew by, etc., unlike the Sabbath candles. The idea is to just let the light be and shine forth. It’s to gather people close for reflection and prayer. It’s the ultimate symbol and that’s all it’s supposed to be. We set the menorah in the window to demonstrate that we are here, not afraid, and that in this house there is light for all who wish to see…

I love the idea of the Hanukkah candle being light for just light’s sake, with no other purpose than to shine forth. And I love that Jews and Christians can come together in their respective liturgical seasons and talk about the goodness of light and rededication to hope, to faith, to life and to each other.

May your season be filled with the goodness of pure light and may that light bring your heart a sense of peace and hope.

Gospel Reflection for December 25, 2014, Christmas/Holy Family

23 Dec


Christmas Readings: Isaiah 9.1-6; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20

“The angel said, ‘You have nothing to fear.  I bring you good news, a great joy to be shared by the whole people.  For this day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord.  Let this be a sign to you; you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’”  

Luke 2.10-12

Many people today may identify with how unusual Jesus’ family is. His mother is not married when he is conceived. His mother’s husband is not Jesus’ real dad. His mother is still a virgin, probably still a teenager. Mary and Joseph face all the challenges any child presents new parents, but Luke’s story also tells us their baby is extraordinary–the savior, the messiah, God’s Son.

These titles make claims about who Jesus is that eventually get him arrested and condemned to death. Angels announce Jesus’ identity to shepherds and give them and us a sign. The sign is the baby lying in a manger, a feed trough. Jesus’ first crib hints he will give his life to nourish ours. A manger is a place of low status, a place among animals and shepherds who live at the margins of society. The child is good news for the poor, joy to all of us, and safe with temporarily homeless parents making do.

Where might Jesus be born today to express God’s willingness to identify with all of us, especially the lowly and left out?

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