Tag Archives: lent

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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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.

What Else?

20 Feb
via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.” The man asked, “What in particular?” Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.” The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”

“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.” That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

–Matthew 19:16-22

I identify with the young man in this story, so much so that I have to chuckle. I am a doer, an achiever, one who wants to earn God’s love and promises on my own accord. In school and more recently as an employee, I acted like this young man, saying to my teachers and supervisors, “Ok, done. Did that. Checklist complete. What’s next? What else can I do?” Read: How can I show you even more how competent, efficient and productive I am and thus gain your respect and approval?

I even acted like the young man in Matthew 19 during Lent. I got good at giving things up as a young girl. When I was twelve I gave up soda and candy and eating between meals. It was easy. So then decided to give things up and do more good. For example, one Lent I sent a nice note to someone different every day in addition to giving up everything I thought to be a vice. Look at me go, God.

The young man in Matthew goes so far as to treat the Ten Commandments like a checklist. Check, check, check. Got it. Now what? What else can I do? What is next? I, like this young man, was looking to Jesus for the same rewards I got from my teachers and bosses. Jesus, like he so often does in his ministry, elevates the conversation. He let’s me and the young man know that we are not even playing the right game. Following Jesus requires a lighter load.

The season of Lent is a time that invites us to downshift our lives. We take a deep breath, look around, and take stock of what we are holding tightly and what we can’t bear to let go. Jesus gives us a hint that it’s probably the wrong stuff, and it’s the stuff that is limiting us from following him. For years, I couldn’t bear to let go of my accomplishments. I clung to my competence and my ability to do do do more and do it well. And when I was finished, I’d go back to see what else there was for me to do. I don’t need to let go of chocolate and add more to my Good Samaritan to-do list. This Lent, I am praying about playing the wrong game. It’s not about doing more. What I cling to is doing more. For me, it is about embracing the being part of human being. Following Jesus means letting go of the spiritual checklist to be more free to love.

Gospel Reflection for February 22, 2015, 1st Sunday of Lent

19 Feb

Sunday Readings: Genesis 9.8-15; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.12-15

“Immediately after his baptism the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.”

(Mark 1.12)

Every Lent we tend to own up to our self-destructive habits and recommit to become more kind, loving, and prayerful, to say nothing of healthier. What if it is our affections that pull us more strongly to accomplish our dreams than the ascetic disciplines we often consider?

What if our senses are not the problem, leading us into temptation at every side, but are the catalysts for meeting the people in our lives? The senses are doorways to community. They stir our memories of connections with others and open our hearts to those we see, hear, and touch each day.

What if we need to fall in love again with those closest to us, giving them time and ear to reengage? What if we make a point this Lent to do with family and friends what unfailingly brings us joy and recharges our batteries?

With whom or what might you fall in love again this Lent?

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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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Stations of the Cross

3 Apr
via flickr user MIKECNY

via flickr user MIKECNY

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about central pillars of Catholic practice during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This week I consider Stations of the Cross, which, while not a pillar of Lenten practice, is a popular devotional practice among many Catholics. Admittedly, growing up, I was not a big fan of the Stations of the Cross. On a practical level, it seemed long and boring. As I got older, I also objected to the focus on the suffering and death of Jesus. It seemed a bit too macabre for my taste; I preferred to hear about the angry Jesus who overturned tables in the temple, the compassionate Jesus who healed and helped those on the margins of the society, and the resurrected Jesus who appeared to his followers to shore up their strength and commission them to spread his message.

So in the spirit of renewal this Lent, I am trying to think about the Stations of the Cross in a different way. What is a station for? A station is place where you wait, like a train station. So Stations of the Cross are places where we wait, where we take time to reflect on the path of Jesus as he went to the cross. Like other practices of Lent, praying the Stations of the Cross causes us to use our time differently—to slow down and to reflect on distinct moments of Jesus’ journey to the cross—and to think about ourselves and our place in the world differently. What does it mean for my life that Jesus endured suffering, in order that he might die and be resurrected? What does it mean for my life that living as he did resulted in Jesus being crucified on a cross like a common criminal? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are necessary ones as we strive to learn from the mystery of Jesus Christ. In our considering of them, we may find that, like Lazarus in this week’s Gospel, knowing Jesus results in the burial clothes that tie our bodies and shield our eyes as we live in the death of this world are removed so that we can live a new life with Christ.

Stations of the Cross also can be called the Way of the Cross. It is one of the ways that we can fulfill the injunction by Jesus in the Gospels to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him (Mark 8:34, Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23). Walking and praying the Stations of the Cross gives us a chance to go on a pilgrimage without leaving home, as we follow in the steps of Jesus. And while it is not helpful to focus only on the suffering and death of Jesus, neither is it good to completely gloss over the crucifixion and the events that led to it. We all know that there is a dark side in the world (and in ourselves, if we are honest); odd as it may sound, attending to Jesus’ passion can give us hope as we face the darkness in our lives and in our world. It also teaches us lessons about courage, patience, and trusting in a God who promises to deliver us from all evil.

To participate in the Stations of the Cross, individuals or groups remember fourteen scenes from the passion of Christ, that is, the suffering of Christ that ended in his death on the cross. Frequently, these scenes are depicted artistically—carved in stone, painted on wood—and arranged at intervals around a church building. Those praying the stations walk in the steps of Jesus, stopping at each scene to remember what happened to Christ and to say a prayer. There are also various online resources for individuals to use if they want to reflect on the Stations at home; click here for one I really like.

There are three things to remember if you are going to pray the Stations on your own. First, it is important to include a time of meditation at each Station, a time during which you reflect on what happened to Christ. Second, it is important to try to see ourselves mirrored in Christ and to consider how each Station may have application in our own lives. Ask yourself, what might this Station have to teach me today? What is it saying to me? What is it helping me to see or do differently? And finally, there are no set prayers that must be said at each Station. You can use prayers that you are familiar with (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be), prayers someone else has written for reflection on the Stations, or prayers you come up with yourself. This gives you the freedom to interact with the Stations, to make them part of your own prayer practice.

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