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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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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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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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The God Trump Card

21 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Dwight Stone

Photo via Flickr user Dwight Stone

In part because I was lucky enough to receive an excellent theological education from grade school through seminary, I wince when I hear someone start a sentence with, “God says…” or even, “The Bible says…” Quoting the Bible does not mean quoting God, and even quoting the Bible has to be done with great care and reflection. These phrases can stunt conversation and dialogue, two things I’m in the business of promoting. I call it playing the God card, or throwing Bible bullets. The God card and Bible bullets are difficult for many people to argue, even though they so often used inaccurately.

Inevitably, during election season, the Bible gets dusted off to do the work of promoting person and political agendas. My instinct, backed by my deep respect of the Bible and its power to be used or abused, is to tread very lightly here.

Years ago, I had one professor who had been studying the Hebrew Scripture his entire adult life. He seemed to know God through his studies in a way I only dared to hope. He started the course by sharing some guidelines, some things to consider when approaching the sacred biblical text. I found it exceedingly helpful, so I put them in my own words. Every time I teach the Bible, now, I start out by sharing them, too. Students always seem to find it a helpful place to start. I find it a helpful place to come back to and revisit. I hope you do, too:

Be mindful of how who you are changes how you read the Bible.

The text is not the same as the interpretation of the text.

We are reading a translation, and every translator carries a bias.

No passage has a single meaning.

Reading the Bible is a cross-cultural experience. It was written in a time long ago, in a place far away.

Talking about the Bible with people who think and live differently than us will make the truth more complex, richer and more full.

The Bible contradicts itself and never attempts to be consistent. It interprets itself.

There is a difference between believing in the Bible and believing in the God of the Bible.

Reading the Bible literally is a fairly recent phenomenon.

There are several different genres in the Bible– poetry, myth, genealogy, law, parable– that deserve to be read with different lenses.

Not everything in the Bible happened, but that does not diminish the story’s truth.

Context is key. Taking a verse out of context limits the power of the passage. We must study the passage by looking at what comes before it and after it, by putting it into the context of the whole Bible, and considering the historical and political context the passage is set in. This takes work, challenging us to not just read the Bible, but study it.

Not every Bible passage is equal in its influence over our faith life.

The Bible does not have answers to all our modern-day questions.

Gospel Reflection for October 16, 2016, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time

12 Oct

Sunday Readings: Exodus 17.8-13; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2; Luke 18.18

“Take up my case. Give me my just rights against my opponent.” – Luke 18.3

The widow in Jesus’ parable this Sunday is not asking for food and basic necessities. She is seeking her “just rights.” The word in Greek, ekdikeo, is not the usual term for justice but a word that means settling with an adversary. We have a widow with the means and moxie to take someone to court. When the judge finally acts, it is because he fears the widow will disgrace him.

This widow is a woman of voice and action who wants a judgment against her adversary and won’t be silenced. She is like the Mothers of the Plaza de May who have protested the “disappeared” in Argentina since 1977. This year the founder Hebe de Bonafini met with Pope Francis, who told her, “When I meet a woman whose sons were murdered, I kneel down before her.”

How is the widow in the gospel a model for Christians? What evils does the judge represent that Christians must resist? Who do you know who protests like the widow?

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Gospel Reflection for October 9, 2016, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

5 Oct

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 5.14-17; 2 Timothy 2.8-13; Luke 17.11-17

Jesus asked, “Weren’t ten lepers cleansed? Where are the other nine?” – Luke 17.17

In Sunday’s gospel only one of the ten lepers Jesus heals returns to thank Jesus. The passage prompts us to practice gratitude to God and to one another. Being alive calls us to appreciate the Creator. Evolution deepens the story of God’s creative love in which we live. We see with eyes that have evolved over millions of years in creatures that sought light. Our stem cells contain the memory of God’s love unfolding. To be part of giving life gives parents their moment in the evolution of all that is. The birth of a child takes them to a place of awe and closeness to God. The child immediately breathes in the oxygen that plants and trees make every summer day out of sunlight. Our lungs tie us to the outside world we share with all that squirms, flies, blooms, and in each of us says than you. Our hearts tie us to one another.

What are 10 things you are grateful for today? Use the question every day.

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Unchristian Certainty

30 Sep

I am walking with youth through a unit on Faith and Science. Can you believe in God and science, the Bible and evolution? Can you seek God in what you know as well as what you don’t? I’m finding the matter at hand repeatedly comes back to unfair assumptions about certainty. Certainty has become a value of society. It helps young people (dare I say all people) feel competent and worthy of being taken seriously. We associate it with confidence and knowledge. All too often we look to our political, scientific and religious leaders to exude certainty. In the midst of uncertain times, we wager it may help us feel safer. It rarely does.

At the core of both faith and science is not certainty, but wonder. Boiling either area down to certainty limits it greatly. It limits God. The deeper we get into the disciplines of both science and religion, we gain knowledge, yes, but also awe. Modern-day astronomers look up at the stars and think more and more that we are not alone, that we may never have one set of scientific rules to live by, that we are made of the stuff of stars.

Maybe it is time for all of us to embrace doubt as a friend:

Doubt then is not our enemy but our great friend. For it keeps us from the most unchristian of things: assuming that we possess certainty, that we need not think about our faith or love our neighbors, and worse, that we become certain is no longer (by definition) faith; it has become idolatry, where we no longer seek out a living personal God but make this God into a frozen idol. The truth, then, is that there can be no relationship at all when it is based on certainty. I cannot really love my friend and embrace the fullness of his being if I assume I know him with certainty, if in being with him I keep saying, “I know you; that’s not what you think. I don’t need to hear you, see you or learn from you. I know you certainly. You cannot change.”

–Andrew Root and Kendra Creasy Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry 

The seriousness that Root and Dean bring to the matter of doubt and relationship is refreshing. Indeed, we do not want to limit our loved ones with certainty, so why ever would we want to limit God? Embracing wonder and doubt invokes love yet again, where we leave room to be surprised, we leave room for growth.

Gospel Reflection for October 2, 2016, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

28 Sep

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 9.13-28; Philomen 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14.25-33

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my follower; whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14.26-27

Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples as he goes. Jesus is out to shock them out of popular expectations of the messiah. The conflicts Jesus faces will demand suffering and ultimately his life in a cruel death meant for insurrectionists against Rome. The sayings in Sundays gospel insists discipleship may ask our all, too. Our commitment may pull us away from family and safe and comfortable homes. Jesus’ life and work were scandalous, and disciples who try to live and do as he did can expect to endure shaming, harassment, and even violence. His disturbing words frighten us. Like the disciples we are on a journey. Our commitment unfolds day by day in our giving.

Share an experience that challenged you beyond anything you imagined.

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