Gospel Reflection for July 3, 2016, 14th Sunday Ordinary Time

28 Jun

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 66.10-14; Galatians 6.14-18; Luke 10.1-9

“Whatever house you enter, say first, ‘Peace to this house.'”

(Luke 10.5) 

In Sunday’s gospel Jesus sends out 72 missionaries to announce the kingdom of God is at hand.  A missionary is someone who is sent to bring a message.  The word to send in Greek is apostlein, from which we get the word apostle, missionary.  Only Luke describes the 72 sent off in pairs to travel with little but their message and instructions to stay with people who reciprocate their greeting of peace, the same peace the angels announce at Jesus’ birth.

In this passage Luke double exposes the Church’s mission on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.  Only Luke finds the story of the Church inseparable from the story of Jesus’ ministry and inaugurates the mission of bringing God’s healing nearness to the nations and through this mission to us.

On the Fourth of July Americans rise together to honor the flag in parades down our streets.  On most other days, especially in an election year, we struggle to forge the vision the day celebrates.  We disagree about immigrants and whose lives matter.  Perhaps we don’t talk religion or politics to keep peace in our families.  Jesus’ message challenges us to include more than our own individual selves in the happiness we pursue.

For what are you grateful in our nation on this 4th of July?  To whom do you reciprocate a greeting of peace in your home and neighborhood?

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No Rules

24 Jun
Photo via Flickr user Susan Ackeridge

Photo via Flickr user Susan Ackeridge

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. — Galatians 5:13-14, 18-25
There are no rules when it comes to love.
It is something the Galatians needed to be reminded of, and I understand. It’s a simple idea. You hear it and think, “Of course. Of course there is no such thing as too much love or too much patience. More kindness is always better than less. Yet we pace ourselves. We ration. We save our love for certain people and withhold it from others. We live as if we don’t believe the simple truth that love grows, seeps and expands. It replenishes and flows.
There are good things that we need to apply rules to: sugar or screen time come to mind. Moderation is key. Our struggles to find balance and health in life, or relationship with our own will power, trains us to apply rules to all things. With the gift of the spirits, though, rules need not apply.
On Father’s Day, my father reflected about raising five children. When my mom was pregnant with me, their second, my parents were afraid. There was no way they could love us as much as they loved their first. But then I came into their lives, and they hearts expanded. There was more love to go around.
There is no law against more love. And isn’t this what we need right now? To believe in the ability for love to multiply and spread? We will not run dry. If we love more, God will replenish and renew, will fill us with the capacity to keep on loving.

 

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Faith in Action

23 Jun

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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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Keeping Faith Today

17 Jun
Photo via Flickr user Natashi Jay

Photo via Flickr user Natashi Jay

A woman is sexually assaulted while unconscious. 49 people are shot dead in a nightclub in Orlando. The country responds with anger, confusion, fear, sadness and grief. My heart is heavy.

How do we acknowledge and honor our feelings without letting them shut us down? Anger, confusion, fear, sadness and grief all have the potential to consume us, invite us into isolation, or lead to paranoia and hatred. How do we feel what we feel and commit to staying open and vulnerable? How do we keep faith today?

Confusion can lead to dialogue. Fear can inspire us to unite. Anger can lead to peacemaking action. Sadness can lead to greater compassion. For me, that transformation requires deep faith. It requires me to return to the story of Jesus. His life centered around peacekeeping. In his death, he took anger, confusion, fear and hatred into his body and transformed it to life and love.

Jesus’ life and death inspired the Christian nonviolent movement. It continues to inspire individuals and groups to bring love out of hate and peace out of fear. That transformation is what I pray for. I pray for the courage to allow God to turn my pain into love in action.

Gospel Reflection for June 19, 2016, 12th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Jun
Photo via Flickr user Ian Britton

Photo via Flickr user Ian Britton

Sunday Readings: Zechariah 12.10-11, 13.1; Galatians 3.26-29; Luke 9.18-24

“But you — who do you say that I am?”

(Matthew 9.20)

Immediately after Peter answers Jesus’ question, “The Messiah of God,” Jesus predicts his suffering, rejection, and death. His prediction contradicts the popular notion of the leader Israel awaits. To his early followers Jesus’ call to take up the cross and follow him is also daunting. The cross is the Roman Empire instrument of public torture, the electric chair of its day. For us today the cross is a revered symbol which inspires reverence more than fear. Yet, like the earlier Christians, we seek to understand what Jesus asks of us. He lays out three conditions of discipleship: deny yourself, take up the cross daily, and follow me. To follow Jesus means orienting ourselves toward others in our daily lives and standing for what is right and just in public life and anchor our hopes in Jesus’ way.

How developed is your habit of thinking of others and of God before yourself? From whom have you learned compassion?

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Ramadan

10 Jun

June 6 marked the beginning of Ramadan for our Muslim brothers and sisters. Until July 5th, Muslims will fast daily from sunrise to sunset. It is considered a month of holiness, when fasting can center folks, inviting them to remember the poor and acknowledge their dependence on God. It is a month of discipline and celebration. As a Muslim friend recently told me, breaking the fast in Ramadan is like Thanksgiving every day. Families and friends often gather to feast at sundown.

During the summers of 2012 and 2013, I had the pleasure of spending Ramadan with a group of Muslims in Kenya. I saw how draining the month long fast could be, but I also saw its effect on the community in positive ways. Many looked forward to Ramadan as a time to focus on faith, to deepen prayer, to connect with God, and come together as a people.

We are living in a time of great misunderstanding surrounding Islam. The holy season of Ramadan is a good time for Christians to learn more, listen intently and open our hearts to our Muslim brothers and sisters. I’m heartened to see the birth of an organization called Congregations Together for Peace that builds ties between Christian and Muslim communities. I’m encouraged that Lutheran Social Services for Minnesota has created a study guide for Christian adults and youth to work through.

Maybe this Ramadan God is calling us to pray daily for stronger relationships between Christians and Muslims. Or could it mean fasting one day a week in solidarity? Invite a local Imam to your congregation to speak, or extending a blessed Ramadan to Muslims in your life. To honor their holy season, let us walk with our Muslim brothers and sisters toward lasting peace.

Gospel Reflection for June 12, 2016, 11th Sunday Ordinary Time

7 Jun
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: 2 Samuel 12.7-10; Galatians 2.16, 19-21; Luke 7.36-8.3

“Do you see this woman?”

(Luke 7.44)

“Accompanying Jesus were the twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities — Mary called the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.”

(Luke 8.3)

Sunday’s scriptures treat us to biblical soap opera — sex, sin, and extravagant repentance in both Old Testament and New. Sinner is the label that identifies the woman who models repentance in Sunday’s gospel — Luke’s memorable story of a woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair.

Sinner is a label little used today. Our news reports murder, fraud, sexual abuse, arson, robbery as crimes and acts of violence rather than sin. Sin is a religious word, which literally means missing the mark. In the bible sin refers to breaking the terms of the covenant relationship Israel made with God — the ten commandments. In Jesus’ time one could be labeled sinner for not keeping dietary laws or working with Gentiles as tax collectors did.

The woman labeled sinner in Sunday’s gospel has no name. That has not stopped commentators through the centuries from identifying her as Mary Magdalene. The four gospels hold no such evidence. The gospels contain maddening silences, nameless characters, and gestures from a culture 2,000 years ago that we readers must interpret. This Sunday’s gospel challenges us to look past labels and appreciate who people really are, especially when they change.

When have you connected the wrong dots and misinterpreted a person or interaction?

Read more about the woman who loved too much and about Mary Magdalene in Sunday by Sunday. If you like learning more about the women of the gospels, click here to subscribe.

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Money and Church

3 Jun
Photo via Flickr user UrbanPerspectiV

Photo via Flickr user UrbanPerspectiV

As a little kid, I remember watching the big baskets being passed back and forth down the pews in church. Each Sunday, my mom let one of us five kids put her envelope in the basket. It made me feel powerful and generous. One week, on the way home in the minivan, I asked my mom from the back seat, “Mom, how do they get all that money up to God?” She laughed, “It doesn’t go to God, honey. God doesn’t need our money. The church does.” I remember being a little disappointed. It was not as exciting or romantic to give money to the priest to do oh so very human things with it like keep up the grounds or pay his salary. I had imagined God using the money for much more grand things, and us getting diving credit for our generosity. I grew up a little that day, understanding more about how the world and the human church work. I believe in tithing and being generous with the money I earn. Yet, reading Zach Czaia’s Open Letter to the New Archbishop reminded me how easy it can be to give blindly without asking where our money is going. In his letter, he says he also believes in tithing. However, he is not giving blindly. His letter challenges the direction the church is going financially and proposes that some of the community’s money go toward supporting victims of sexual assault:

I have lost confidence that this money is doing much good for the community. Nevertheless, I give because I was taught it was right to tithe, to give back to the church, to support it. But I have never once heard a second collection taken up for the victims of sexual abuse, many of whom were victimized in the very spaces where we sit. I have never once heard a financial appeal for support of victims, whose lives have been uprooted at the hands of abusive priests. Good therapy is not cheap, but I have never once seen the collection basket passed around for good therapy so a victim of sexual abuse could heal. Never once, not in 33 years sitting in the pews.

He goes on to speak of parishes and schools that are struggling financially, even declaring bankruptcy, while the archdiocese claims themselves as a separately incorporated. Invoking Paul’s image of the body of Christ, Czaia calls for unity, an embracing and support of the hurting members of the body. It is a complicated time for the church. It is difficult to navigate where money fits into our faith. It is the same disconnect I felt as a child. I’m grateful for Czaia’s letter, which challenges me to engage and really think about the role of money in our church.

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