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Gospel Reflection for December 11, 2016, 3rd Sunday Advent

6 Dec

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.1-6,10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11

John the Baptist sends messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answers, “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind can see; the lame can walk; lepers are cured; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” – Matthew 11.3-5

In Sunday’s first reading the prophet Isaiah imagines the desert greening wherever God steps. The Israelite captives’ return from exile in Babylon brought healing joy and a new experience of God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. In his ministry Jesus gives life: sight, hearing, healing that reveals God as the giver of life and the lover of us all, again making Isaiah’s prophecy come true in his time. It’s Sunday’s first reading. God is faithful and keeps on giving life.

In the first week of Advent I visited my brother at the University of Minnesota Hospital. It’s where he got a living donor liver transplant from his son. It’s where my mother died of the same liver disease that damaged that vital organ in my brother. Mother was part of the research that in three years initiated transplants. Doctors and nurses are helping Isaiah’s vision keep coming true. We take part in giving life in many ways–giving birth, nurturing our children, caring for our planet, being good news for people living on the edge of sustenance. Like our Christmas trees God is ever-green, the encircling, sustaining life, and holy mystery in which we live.

As one of our local priests often started Mass, “In the name of our ever-living, all-loving, unfolding God.”

What do we hear and see around us that makes the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus quotes keep coming true? 

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Spices from Heaven

2 Dec
Photo via Flicker user Mark Skrobola

Photo via Flicker user Mark Skrobola

Invisible spices are falling from heaven all the time. If your eye is not holding its hand out, or your mouth or heart not open, how will you ever get a full taste of something that will cure you of many things? –Rumi

Advent is a time when invisible spices fall from heaven. It is a mistake, then, to simply wait passively for Christ to come. Advent is a season of actively waiting, of intentional preparation. As we open our Advent calendars, hang our stockings, bake our cookies, light our candles, we are asking the Lord to come near. If our eyes hold their hands out, if we keep our mouths and hearts open, we will get a taste of what is to come.

Advent is an invitation to change our outlook and posturing, to get quiet but also get moving. To acknowledge that things are going fine, life is predictable and familiar, but deep down we yearn for God to show up. If our eyes, mouths and hearts are open, we can choose to see things like the wisdom of small children, snow days, unexpected invitations, or a needed connection with a friend as divine intrusion.

We need God to intrude into the ordinary, to become one of us. We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t know we needed it, until he came. And we need him to come again. Please, Lord, intrude again with your divinity. There are so many hurting, mourning, captive, broken-hearted. Jesus is coming to bring comfort and freedom. There is much we can do to prepare the way.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. -Ish 61:1-3

We are preparing for Jesus, God with us, to come. Jesus comes as a baby, but we know what is at the end of the line for him. He is coming to die. Christ the king is not about power, but love. How do you make room for more love during Advent? How do you wait actively, to prepare? How do you hold the hand of your eyes open to catch spices from heaven?

Come Lord Jesus. We need you now.

Gospel Reflection for December 4, 2016, 2nd Sunday of Advent

30 Nov
Photo via Flickr User Karen Thurmond

Photo via Flickr User Karen Thurmond

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 11.1-10; Romans 15.4-9; Matthew 3.1-12

Two family trees figure in Sunday’s readings: the children of Abraham and Sarah hear God’s call, go to a new land, and await a child who will be the first of descendants as countless as the stars. Faith in God’s promise is their DNA.

The descendants of Jesse becomes the Kings of Israel. God promises Jesse’s son David that his throne will stand forever. Faith and repentance are in David’s DNA.

John the Baptist calls his contemporaries, who are children of Abraham and Sarah by blood, to become children by active faith. Fierce and holy like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist is a lone voice in the wilderness, calling people to repent and prepare for one who will baptize them in Spirit and fire. Repentance is the true inheritance of Israel, John insists. The fruitful tree symbolizes the repentant person.

What spiritual values are in your DNA?

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Gospel Reflection for November 27, 2016, 1st Sunday Advent

24 Nov

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 2.1-5, Romans 13.11-14, Matthew 24.37-44

Thanksgiving gatherings are troubling many folks after the election. The gospel that begins the church year wakes us up to love one another. The gospel is about Jesus’ coming again, an event that seems far off, but the gospel uses the flood in the time of Noah and a thief in one’s home as convincing examples that the time to wake up to God’s coming among us is always now.

The birth of Jesus reveals a divine value in human life and relationships. The birth of God in human flesh is an emptying of divine prerogative and a privileging of our human capacities to heal, share, forgive, reconcile, free, accompany. Now is the time to live like Jesus. Now is the moment to feed the hungry, to forgive those we really love, to restore depressed spirits to joy. Now is the time to watch birds eating the seeds of last summer’s blooms and to let I love you and I’m proud of you no longer go unsaid. Now is the time to give ourselves to those we love and those whose lives we touch.

Isaiah urges us to train for war no more, to beat our swords into pruning hooks, our bombs into bread, to build peace in our families and our world.

What family rituals do you value most for holding those you love together?

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Giving Thanks

23 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Tyler Neyens

Photo via Flickr user Tyler Neyens

 

O give thanks to the Lord, for he
is good,
for his steadfast love endures
forever.
-Psalm 136:1

When I was little, my mom required us to make homemade thank you cards for everything. It became second nature, habit. As an adult, it is still part of my spiritual practice. I don’t use construction paper and markers as much anymore, but I do enjoy the task of sitting down to write a detailed, personalized thank you. I like to think about my gratitude and put words to it. Specificity helps awaken, deepen and broaden my gratitude.

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.”

-2 Chronicles 5:13

Every Thanksgiving, my spouse and I make twenty pies the day before and serve them to our friends for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. It is probably the most decadent thing we do all year. People love it, taking a moment of abundance to indulge in the bounty. Giving thanks to God and each other is so important on Thanksgiving and beyond. It changes are hearts and eyes. It invites us to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t have. It reminds me to approach people and things I can take for granted with renewed reverence, curiosity, respect and love.

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

-2 Corinthians 9:11

A well placed, heartfelt, specific thank you changes the energy in the air in a way that is contagious. Its spirit can grow exponentially. It is a practice that can change our worldview, posturing, outlook and energy individually and collectively. This Thanksgiving, I’m deeply grateful for my spouse, son, and baby growing inside of me. I am thankful for my co-workers and a fulfilling job. I am blessed with family, shelter, food, safety and community. I’m thankful for warm coffee, clean water, laughter, soft blankets, engaging books, beautiful music, a healthy body, and pie. In an age of cynicism, polarization, fear and scarcity, when the reach and strength of oppression can take our breath away, let us continue to give thanks and allow that gratitude to bring more beauty into a hurting world.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4:6-7

The Role of Women

18 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

On his recent flight from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis told reporters, “Concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands.” He added that it is not likely to ever change. The clarity of the statement surprised some in part because Pope Francis has been so supportive of the ministry of women in the church. He said, in fact, that “women can do many other things better than men.”

Are there fundamental differences in men and women that require such different roles in ministry? Making a gender role distinction by restricting women from overseeing word and sacrament, limits women, but also may limit men in the congregation. In a recent interview with Salt and Light, for example, Stephen Colbert shared a story about witnessing a female priest oversee Eucharist:

When I heard a woman say ‘This is my body,’ the freshness of hearing a woman say that gave the message a universality that it always should have — and I’m not saying it doesn’t coming out of a male priest — but it opened my ears to the possibility that it is also my body. That in my participation in the Eucharist, I participate in the gift that Christ gives me …

Saying women are better than men at many things also limits men. When he says women are better than men at some things, is it really because men are less capable of these things or is it because of society’s role restrictions? Take Glennon Doyle Melton passage from her latest book, Love Warrior, as an example:

God created woman as a Warrior. I think about the tragedies the women in my life have faced. How every time a child gets sick or a man leaves or a parent dies or a community crumbles, the women are the ones who carry on, who do what must be done for their people in the midst of their own pain. While those around them fall away, the women hold the sick and nurse the weak, put food on the table, carry their families’ sadness and anger and love and hope. They keep showing up for their lives and their people with the odds stacked against them and the weight of the world on their shoulders. They never stop singing songs of truth, love and redemption in the face of hopelessness. They are inexhaustible, ferocious, relentless cocreators with God, and they make beautiful worlds out of nothing.

It is a beautiful passage that made me nod my head and smile. It’s true. Women are amazing at this kind of love. I see it all around me. I think she is getting at what the Pope means when he talks about the essential ministry of women in the church. I have to wonder, however, aren’t these actions human actions, not feminine ones? Society calls on and expects women to hold families together, but that is not to say that men can’t.

Pope Francis’ statement about female ordination seems to carry some finality. Yet, in our love of God and neighbor, in our love of Christ and the Church, and in light of our recent presidential election, I believe it is essential now more than ever to continue to ask critical questions about how gender roles in our church and our world limit us all so that all of God’s children can flourish.

Gospel Reflection for November 20, 2016, Christ the King

14 Nov

Sunday Readings: 2 Samuel 5.1-3; Colossians 1.12-20; Luke 23.35-43

“Jesus is the face of God’s mercy,” Pope Francis writes in announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy that ends this Sunday. “These words might well sum up the mystery of Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him.” In Sunday’s gospel Jesus shows us mercy is his signature act; he forgives the good thief on the cross. Forgiveness is the balm of mercy that Pope Francis hopes has reached everyone this year.

In this crucifixion scene the evangelist Luke gives us the gospel in cameo. Luke tells the community for whom he writes and us that Jesus is God’s Spirit-filled prophet, innocent of charges brought against him. He brings good news to people who live in poverty and hope to those burdened with debt and exploited for profit. Jesus is our kin, who knows our sufferings and seeks to heal people and set them free. This is the mission we continue — kinship or solidarity with all.

To whom have you yet to show mercy in this year of mercy? Who among the kin of God or kin of Jesus stretches who you regard as kin?

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Dying Well

11 Nov
Bruce Kramer

Bruce Kramer

I know Bruce Kramer only through his blog Dis Ease Diary about living with and dying from ALS. A profoundly wise man, Bruce died of ALS in 2015. In his writing, he wanted to ask questions in a way that united people. What a worthy endeavor. When I heard Cathy Wurzer was speaking about her relationship with Bruce and their book project, We Know How This Ends on All Saints’ Day, I knew I had to go. His spirit filled the sanctuary as Wurzer projected pictures and played audio of Bruce.

In choosing to die well, Bruce continues to teach us so much about how to live well. Bruce claimed that ALS was the greatest teacher of his life. It helped him become the man he was meant to be. He invited those around him to be vulnerable, to stay present in the day, and to cut straight through to love. In so doing, he got to know people on a different level and at a different depth, which changed his life.

Through adaptive yoga, he learned how to breathe and ground himself even at the very end. He was able to forgive his body for dying like it was supposed to do, just faster than he would’ve liked. One son stayed connected to Bruce through yoga, another came three times a week to shave his face with a straight blade, an intimate interaction. Bruce recorded himself reading children’s books so his grandchildren could hear his voice after he was gone. He took full advantage of the time he was given at the end. He allowed death to focus his life. The title of Bruce Kramer’s book comes from a line he repeated a lot after his diagnosis: “We’re all headed to the same place.” Indeed. Death opened his eyes to how precious life is, and he never stopped growing.

Wurzer grew close to Kramer over the years of interviews. He required it, actually. When they started working together he asked her, “Will you be here in the end, when I die?” She kept her word and got her buddies at NPR to play one of his favorite pieces on classical radio as he was taking his last breaths. When her colleague asked her in the aftermath, “What do you make it all?” She answered, “I think I gave grace a microphone.”

As the poignant evening came to a close, Wurzer projected a Peanuts cartoon with two characters sitting on a dock. One says, “Some day we will all die.” The other says, “True, but on all the other days we will not.” This is the gift of All Saints’ Day. There is grieving, loss and sorrow, but also great joy. I am alive today and living better in part because Bruce Kramer, faced with a horrible fate, committed to dying well.

 

Gospel Reflection for November 13, 2016, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time

9 Nov

Sunday Readings: Malachi 3.19-20; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-12; Luke 21.5-19

“By patient endurance you will save your lives.” – Luke 21.19

In the face of war (Syria, Afghanistan), earthquakes (Oklahoma after fracking), and plagues (Zika virus)–all the regular stuff of breaking news, Jesus recommends patient endurance. Persevere. Jesus has taught us how to live every day. Indeed every tragedy catches individuals in the midst of doing good, saving someone beside themselves, rescuing neighbors, helping the disabled, helping clear away storm damage. Christianity is about the verbs of everyday living: love, share, forgives, include, speak the trust, listen, learn, build, rejoice, show compassion, go an extra mile, lend a hand. As Hillary Clinton directed her supporters in her concession speech, quoting Galatians 6.9, “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest if we do not give up.”

Faith is not certainty in the face of terrifying events. But it is trust that no other than Jesus, who passed through death to life, offers words of eternal life. Faith in Jesus is our deepest anchor and surest model for enduring the shifts and swells of social and personal upheaval.
 
What would you like to be caught doing in the midst of a crisis? How might you make today a non-judgment day?

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Reconciliation Among Christians

4 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Chris-Håvard Berge

Photo via Flickr user
Chris-Håvard Berge

On October 31, Pope Francis joined leaders from the Lutheran World Federation in Sweden to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event also celebrates the ecumenical work accomplished by Catholics and Lutherans over the last fifty years.

Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517 by nailing his 95 thesis to a church door. He was excommunicated, and Catholics and Lutherans have been persecuting each other ever since. The focus of the event in Sweden is to name and ask forgiveness for this schism between the Lutheran and Catholic churches while committing to move forward, praying together.

“There was corruption in the church, worldliness, attachment to money and power,” Francis told reporters this summer. They are the same abuses Francis has criticized in the 21st-century Catholic Church he now leads. —Associated Press

I, for one, see the reconciliation event as both refreshing and necessary. I went to Catholic grade school and high school. I then attended a Lutheran college and graduate school. I have taught theology at a Catholic high school and a Lutheran church. Both Catholics and Lutherans have fed and nurtured me greatly. Both churches still hold serious misconceptions and reservations about the other. In all of these settings, Jesus is at the core of the mission, and Jesus did not spend time on the particulars of dogma or focus on the specific religious affiliation of people. Yet our human need to draw lines and remember the past holds us back from true ecumenical communion and dialogue.

Movement within institutions keep those institutions alive. The Reformation, pushing a Counter-Reformation, made the Catholic Church better and stronger. The Pope’s acknowledgement of that is hopeful. In a time of great national and global polarization and conflict, the Catholic and Lutheran Churches coming together shows communion and reconciliation we are hungry for.

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