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Gospel Reflection for September 30, 2018, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Sep

Sunday Readings: Numbers 11.25-29; James 5.1-6; Mark 9.38-48

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”  – Mark 9.40

Often in our disgustingly polarized times, activists, liberal and conservative, reverse Jesus’ saying and eliminate the middle ground. They insist whoever is not for us is against us. Middle ground is liminal space, valuable to preserve for exploring what we have in common with others, what they have experienced, why they think the way they do. Middle ground is where real people replace stereotypes and liberate each other from the demons of prejudice and unexamined certainty. In the news the future of our democracy depends on finding common ground and common good, cups of water in Jesus’ name all around for all in need.

To what and to whom does the name Christian obligate us?

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Gospel Reflection for August 27, 2017, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

21 Aug

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 22.19-23, Romans 11.33-36, Matthew 16.13-20

“Who do people say that I am?”  – Matthew 16.14

Jesus asks his disciples this question, “Who do people say that I am?”, halfway through his public ministry. Is he the long-awaited leader that prophets dreamed would bring peace? His disciples think so. Is her God’s servant like the Israelites in exile who pours out his life to reveal God’s vision of justice for the nations? Hmmm. Jesus’ disciples haven’t made that connection. Jesus’ question is a brave one. What are people saying about me?

We are still asking who Jesus is. Is he a prophetic reformer who hopes to breathe life into the legalistic religion of his day and whose example challenges us to do the same today? Is he a revolutionary whose inflammatory preaching catches him in the gears of the Roman Empire? Is he the greatest party giver of all time who invites everyone to come to his banquets.

In the new context of evolution we ask, “Isn’t Jesus, who is the Christ, the omega point in whom all creation will converge? Isn’t he the firstborn of a new creation who testifies that love is the ultimate transforming power in the cosmos?”

Who do people say you are? Who notices you are a Christian?

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Gospel Reflection for August 20, 2017, 20th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Aug

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 56.1, 6-7; Romans 11.13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15.21-28

“It is not faith to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus said, but the Canaanite women said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” – Matthew 15.26-27

In both Matthew’s and Mark’s version of this gospel, Jesus refuses to help a Gentile mother who asks him to free her daughter from a demon. Both gospels preserve Jesus’ refusal, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This saying insists Jesus’ mission is only to the Jewish people. In using the saying, Jesus not only refuses the woman’s request, his only refusal to help in the gospels, but he insults her. He uses an ethic slur. The saying makes her a dog.

How can Jesus, who everywhere else in the four gospels reaches out to sinners, lepers and crazy people, express such close-minded prejudice to this woman? This story reflects conflicts in Christian communities after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some Christian must claim Jesus taught the saying, “Don’t throw the children’s food to the dogs.” In both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels, the woman counters with the truth of her own experience. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” At her house both messy children and hungry dogs eat. Her comeback makes space for children and dogs at the same table, for Jews and Gentiles. Her quick wit challenges the meaning of the saying and shows exclusion is not Jesus’ teaching.

What practices today exclude you or fail to nourish you? What experiences have broadened whom you accept into your house or parish community?

Fully Alive! An Easter Retreat

6 Apr

Looking for an Easter retreat? Visit and check out our Fully Alive retreat! In this retreat, you will walk with six Christians who have poured out their lives in love — Dorothy Day, Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Teilhard de Chardin, Julian of Norwich, and Paul the Apostle. You can do the free retreat online or download and print it off.



Gospel Reflection for February 5, 2017, 5th Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Feb
Photo via Flickr user SidewaysSarah

Photo via Flickr user SidewaysSarah

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 58.7-10; 1 Corinthians 2.1-5; Matthew 5.13-16

“You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5.13-14

Salt became a precious commodity because it allowed fish and meat to be dried and cured to last a long time. By comparing his disciples to salt, Jesus encourages them to recognize their value and encourages them to preserve their community from moral decay during the Roman occupation of their land. Jesus’ disciples 2,000 years ago and we today have a vital role in preserving justice and charity in our society.

Roman rule kept Jewish people subjugated with little hope of being free and respected. Nonetheless Jesus challenges them to be like lamps in the darkness, to stand tall and share their light with others. Kind, gracious, generous, respectful actions toward others invite the same in return. Christians are to illumine our society in its darkness.

What light shines in your actions? What values do you preserve?

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Gospel Reflection for January 22, 2017, 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

17 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 8.23-9.3; 1 Corinthians 1.10-13, 17; Matthew 4.12-23

Jesus said “Come, follow me. I want you to gather people into your nets.” – Matthew 4.19

As his first action in his public ministry, Jesus calls four fishermen to accompany and follow him. From the beginning Jesus gathers companions. In fact, it is for the work of gathering people into community that Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Many Christians today may wonder why the four so unhesitatingly follow a man who comes walking along the lakeshore and invites them to, “Follow me.” Matthew is telling the story of the first disciples’ call more than 50 years later. Their initial response to following Jesus expresses the full commitment they grow into. They give their lives wholeheartedly to spreading Jesus’ good news after his death and resurrection. Responding to Jesus’ friendship changes their lives.

Who has called and empowered you to minister? How did you respond? How did your response change your life?

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Gospel Reflection for June 26, 2016, 13th Sunday Ordinary Time

22 Jun

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 19.16, 19-21; Galatians 5.1, 13-18; Luke 9.51-62

“As the days were being fulfilled for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

(Luke 9.51)

The men and women who follow Jesus as disciples serve an apprenticeship on the journey to Jerusalem. They are on the road together. A Samaritan village refuses them lodging. The two people Jesus meets on the road refuses Jesus’ invitation to follow. One must bury his father, another has to say goodbye. Jesus asks for commitment that supersedes family obligations and good-byes. A new community of faith is forming with ties stronger than blood.

Today following Jesus does not require leaving possessions, family, and friends behind. Christianity is now an acceptable and established world religion. It is as this long-established institution that the Church puts off many people today. It seems too encumbered by dogma and traditions, too unresponsive to today’s science and search, and too tainted by scandal.

Sunday’s gospel insists that faith in Jesus is a relationship so basic it supersedes and underlies all others. It calls us to do better than James and John who suggest raining down fire on the Samaritans who refuse to welcome them to their village. It calls us to embody love, forgiveness, and mercy — to be the gospel message in the flesh.

Imagine yourself on this journey with Jesus and his disciples. How might this journey be changing your life?

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Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

A More Compassionate Church

15 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Margaret Almon

Photo via Flickr user Margaret Almon

The other day, I listened to two Lutheran women talking about a Catholic wedding one woman went to. When it came time for communion, she wasn’t sure if she should go up. She saw other non-Catholics go, so she did, too. She took the wafer and dipped it in the chalice, as is the custom at her church. When she got back to her pew, a young man reprimanded her for how she took communion. “Are you even Catholic?” he asked.

She was taken aback and explained that she, too, is a child of God who believes in the practice of holy communion. He apologized, but clearly the moment left her confused and a bit hurt. Catholics do have a lot of rules around communion, including what the chalice should be made of and who can receive it. At times, we get so wrapped up in the rules that we forget the spirit of Jesus offering his body and blood to us. Christians have struggled with this tension between rules and grace since the beginning of the church. Take, for example, the Corinthians Paul writes to:

Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! –1 Corinthians:19-22 

Paul reminds them that church is supposed to be different than home. It is supposed to be a sacred place where people are radically equal. The church meal is trying transcend and be different than meals society. The Corinthians, so soon after Jesus’ death, have forgotten and slipped back into their old ways.

Thousands of years later, at the Catholic wedding, this women did not feel love and inclusion during communion. She did not feel welcome, and was scolded for not following the human made rules of how to eat the meal. She was so hurt, in fact, that she made a disparaging comment about all Catholics in general.

The woman listening jumped in right away. “But have you read about the Pope’s last statement? I get so excited for what this Pope’s love means for the whole world, Catholic or otherwise. He touches people and says that the church is for all people, all sinners.”

Pope Francis’ statement on marriage and family life does make a clear turn in tone. He urges priests to be more compassionate and empathetic, building a more compassionate and empathetic church that meets people where they are at. For example, he asks priests to take a kinder approach to folks who have gone through divorce:

It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church. “They are not excommunicated” and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community.

Like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, Pope Francis is calling us back to a church where Jesus’ broken body is at the center of things. Where, in the midst of rules, love abides.

Power and Limits of Words

30 Jan
Photo via Flickr user JayRaz

Photo via Flickr user JayRaz

A couple I know are torn about which church to attend. One enjoys a more traditional worship and the other tends toward emerging churches with contemporary worship, but they want to worship together. The former read to me the vision and mission statement of the latter’s favorite church and asked me, “Do you even think it’s Christian?”

My immediate response was, “I don’t know enough about the church to say if it’s Christian or not. I don’t know that it’s my place to say.” I thought for a second and added, “That might not be the most important question to ask.” In moments like these, my instinct is to shy away from labeling. In moments like these, I think it may be good to recognize both the power and limitation of words. Take another look at the second sentence of this post. What micro emotions came up as you read the words traditional, emerging and contemporary? We all may react differently to these terms because of our different backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. It quickly gets tricky to talk about these things without defining terms.

It was Kathleen Norris who first got me thinking about semantics when it comes to religion. Her beautiful, powerful book, Amazing Grace, tries to unlock words that have been trapped by years of projection and religious piety. Each vignette is titled with a word that is especially loaded. Instead of defining the terms, she tells a story in hopes of breaking the word back open. Telling stories with people instead of defining terms can counter some of the potential hurt that comes from the power and limitations of words.

Another trick I like is to study other languages. There are words and cultural concepts in other languages that just don’t exist in English. Take, for example, the word hygge. Hygge is a mental state that is loosely defined at coziness or togetherness. But those words don’t cut it. English is too limited to capture the idea. According to Denmark’s official tourism site:

The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too.  And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.

When I am curled up by the fire in sweatpants, snuggling with my loved ones, sipping tea and reading, that is hygge. One word in another language evokes an entire scene with bubbles of emotion and nostalgia. We don’t have a word in English that does it justice. That reminder of the limitation of our language also invites me to approach religious semantics with humility and curiosity. The Bible I read is a translation, and religious experience can be so personal and powerful that words sometimes do not capture the heart of what is going on.

The church being questioned is welcoming people on the margins of society who are coming back to worship after feeling hurt by organized religion. It is, then, I believe, doing healing work of reconciliation that Jesus would approve of. The people who attend that church have stories to tell and moments in their lives that are too big for words.

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