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Gospel Reflection for May 22, 2016, Trinity Sunday

17 May

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Sunday Readings: Proverbs 8.22-31; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15

“The Spirit will glorify me because the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

(John 16.14)

Most Christians grasp as Creator and God as incarnate Son more easily than an image of God as Spirit and guide. We see the creator in parents and grandparents and as one who gives birth to all that is. We see in Jesus God become human, revealing as one of us what God is like.

The Spirit in whom we live, move, and have our being may elude us, until perhaps we lose a parent, grandparent, or friends and experience his or her spirit and voice arising within us. The Spirit is the love or relatedness between Creator, Son, and all that lives.

Jesus shows us God is triune, a community of loving interrelationships that is both one and many. In our human experience three is the beginning of the social threshold. Two people in I-Thous relationship make room for one more and one more to form families and communities. God’s love is always opening out to hold more in communion.

God is not only the Creator of old or the Savior of 2,000 years ago but the Spirit of our daily breath and the deepest present desires, conflicts, and challenges. The Spirit breathes in us today.

How do you experience the Spirit guiding you in your present life?

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Gospel Reflection for May 8, 2016, Ascension

4 May
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Sunday Readings: Acts 1.1-11; Ephesians 1.17-23; Luke 24.46-53

Jesus spoke to his disciples, “Thus it is written that the messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sin would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations. You are the witnesses of these things. See I am sending the promise of my Father upon you, so stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

(Luke 24.46-49)

Before we earthlings saw our planet home from space, the heavens belonged unassailably to God. In the cosmology of Jesus’ time, God and heavens were up and humans and Earth were below. Our 2,000-year-old gospel tells the story of the risen Jesus’ return to God in the worldview everyone assumed in the first century. To return to God is to go to the heavens. It is communion with God.

By hindsight in Luke’s gospel, his disciples see Jesus’ suffering and death as necessary. They have passed from confusion to Easter faith. The ascension is the hinge event between Jesus’ resurrection and sending of the Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles becomes the sequel to the gospel as they carry their witness to the ends of the earth.

How do you imagine the communion with his Father to which the risen Jesus returns?

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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.

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Practice Welcoming Sabbath!

29 Jun

Practice-Welcoming-Sabbath

Gospel Reflection for May 31, 2015, Trinity Sunday

27 May
Photo via Flickr user Larry Koester

Photo via Flickr user Larry Koester

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 4.32-34, 39-40; Romans 8.14-17; Matthew 2816-20

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.”

(Matthew 28.19-20)

Our God is no smug solitary being enclosed in egocentric self-regard but the living God, three persons in free communion, always going forth in love and receiving love. Our Judeo-Christian traditions testify that our God is irrepressibly friendly, steadfast, faithful, and compassionate toward us.

Our heads start to hurt when we think about God, whom we experience as close as we are to ourselves but beyond the adequacy of our words. Importantly the Trinity is a communion of equals, not a monarchy, giving us community and mutual love as models of how to live on Earth as in heaven.

What is at stake in trying to understand God as a communion of equals? How do you experience God?

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Bread

31 Oct
via Flickr user Lars Hammar

via Flickr user Lars Hammar

I love communion. It is a mysterious ritual that always lives a bit beyond our human understanding. I love bread. I married a man who makes bread from scratch– baguettes, pizza dough, bagels and loaves of cracked wheat fill our kitchen with flour and the smell of goodness rising. I love sharing meals with people, the special thing that happens when we take the time to break bread together. When I take communion, I am often filled with memories of all the places around the world where I have shared in the meal. Partaking helps me feel connected to people in different times and places who were searching for the same thing– to be fed. I remember work over the years in shelters and kitchens where redistributing good food brings dignity to us and neighbor. I remember the loaves and fishes story- Jesus using ordinary elements to do extraordinary things. Communion is visible and tangible, and when it is done well, the welcoming and sustaining nature can be a true glimpse of the kingdom.

I just finished Take This Bread by Sara Miles. It is a stunning spiritual memoir about food and bodies and communion. Raised atheist, Sara unexpectedly stumbles into St. Gregory’s church to receive communion. “I’d understood the world first, and best, by putting it in my mouth.” She was hungry, she was welcomed and she kept coming back for more. Communion became, for her, opening food pantries at the church and all around the neighborhood.  Jesus told his followers, while gazing at the hungry crowd, to feed them. They did, and so do we. “Jesus invited notorious wrongdoers to his table, airily discarded all the religious rules of the day, and fed whoever showed up, by the thousands. In the end, he was murdered for eating with the wrong people…. I believe this God rose from the dead to have breakfast with his friends.”

Last Sunday, I helped distribute communion to a full house at our church. Fifty youth who I had worked with over the last year were getting confirmed, so we had family and friends coming in from all over to share in the worship. Some people, not used to dipping bread into wine or having a grape juice compartment as an option in the chalice or maybe taking communion at all, whispered questions about how to proceed. I helped them move through as comfortably as possible. Partaking in ritual can take courage. One woman who asked, “Which side do I use?” I answered, “Either. This is wine, this is grape juice, but it all works.” I smiled. God’s saving love is bigger than the rules, our choices, and our actions.

“This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

“This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

“This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Over and over again, I looked each person in the eye and repeated the audacious claim. It is one thing to receive communion and hear the words once. It’s another to be part of the blessing for everyone who shows up. The words became meditative as I worked to not go through the motions, but engage with each person. About half way through serving the wine, I got a little emotional. The particularity of it all– shed for you, and for you, and for you– within the community of it all set in. We are all hungry, we were all welcomed, we are all saved. Young and old, committed to church and not, we all came forward and received the same gift. Communion is powerful.

I’m with Sara: “There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food,” she writes, “and that’s why feeding is always kind of a miracle.”

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