Thursday, July 24, 2014

15th Sunday, The Sower, the Seed and us.

Sometimes we think we know something so well we ignore its value and meaning. 

We stop listening or we jump to the end of the story confident we know the journey.

We know every parable was Jesus' way to open up the Kingdom of God and show us our relationship to it.

Jesus used the parable to try and break open the stiff minds and hardened hearts of his listeners, to get them to think and chew on an idea, to picture a new reality.

This is the parable of the Sower.

Which seems to have some added significance and weight - as scripture says

"He spoke to them at great length"

Jesus wanted to perfectly clear (at least a clear as a parable is meant to be).

 In this well known parable there are three elements.

Jesus is not so concerned about two of those elements. Not because they are unimportant.

Quite the opposite, they are most important, but they are also complete, constant, and nothing can be added to them.

In this parable Jesus is not concerned with giving or the gift, but about the openness and ability of receiving the gift. It is not about the sower or the seed, but it is all about the soil.

 Jesus knew and proclaimed that God is the giver of all life, and that the father sustains that life through his Word - love in all it's forms of blessings and grace.

And what the father gives and sustains is always fruitful and unstoppable like the mustard seed (the smallest of seeds) growing into the largest of tree.

The first reading beautifully describes this inherent fruitfulness.

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they  have watered the earth making it fertile and fruitful my Word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it"

This is God's promise and our hope.

So the sower (God - the giver of life) and the seed (His Word - through which that life flows) is not the focus.

The plot twist is our varied readiness and openness to God's gift of the Word.

The question mark, the variable, which Jesus wants to highlight in this a parable is the human dilemma (which the early church herself pondered) - why would someone not want the gift?

 Even the most urban of us know soil, by it's very nature, is inconsistent and varied. It can be sandstone, clay, rocky, loamy or rich.

It can stay as it it is found, untilled and fallow or it can be tended and improved.

 Jesus tells us that some seed falls on the hard path where there is no chance of it taking root.  This hard path, beaten and worn, is the hardness of eyes and ears closed so tight we can not even hear the Good News or see its effect around us.

 It is the hardness of selfishness and a self centeredness that hardens the heart.

There is no openness for encounter, no willingness for conversion, no desire for transformation - there is only barren ground.  Jesus describes barrenness.

"They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand"

 Some seed falls on rocky ground where there is a thin layer of soil. 

The seed takes hold but it is quickly killed by heat, and lack of nourishment.

It is the Word received with shallow and short lived enthusiasm. Change begins and there is potential, but that potential dies because it is not sustained and encouraged.

We hear but we forget, we see, but turn away from what is seen.

We are moved by God's truth and  beauty, but that movement fades as Sunday turns to Monday.  Jesus describes this in realized potential as -

"They will hardly hear with their ears and have closed their in case they see or understand with their hearts and be converted"

 Jesus goes on - some seed falls among weeds and thorns.  This seed sprouts into a new tender shoot. But, this new growth is surrounded by things stronger then itself and it succumbs to their stronger, more ruthless influences, and it is crowded out by the darkness, and it can even be strangled to death.

It is the planted Word beginning to grow into faith, but as it grows toward the light it  begins to call into question our deep seated attitudes and self serving convictions that are not compatible with the Good News growing within us.  This growing faith becomes boxed in, stale and routine, it is put in its place by the world it is meant to enlighten.

 But finally Jesus tells us some seed is sown on rich fertile soil. 

Gods life giving Word, in all it's manifestations, falls on receptive ground where an active faith takes hold and it roots drive deep into receptive hearts and vigorous growth produces amazingly good and marvelously abundant and varied fruit. Jesus says -

"But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it , who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred fold"

The dynamics of the parable are simple - it is a reality check. Who are we? How do we hear and see?

To hear and see, in scripture, goes beyond the physical act itself.

To hear and see God's truth is to make what is heard and seen an indwelling action that changes lives. It is always life giving and transformative.

This fruitful hearing and seeing has four actions: to listen and see with an open and unconditional mind, to understand what one hears and sees, to accept what one understands, and this acceptance flows out into our behavior as human beings and as Christians.

The question asked that day and what we need to ask ourselves is where do we fall on the spectrum?

Are we open to the God given potential within us or are we closed up and barren?

Do we refuse to listen and see the Word of life? Do we listen half heartedly and only give it a passing glance.

 Do we understand with heads but not hearts? Do we accept,u but do not live out?

If you are like me we are a mixture of types and in need tender loving care and ongoing amending.

This comes from ongoing transformation through life in the Spirit, nourishment through the sacramental life of the Church, watering and weeding by other faithful and active believers in our home, parish and community. We are all gardens and gardeners.

The Kingdom of God is on the way.  It can not be stopped and like the rain it will produce good results in its time.

  We can ignore it coming, we can sit back and hope for the best, or we can become the soil it takes to absorb Gods word and by its power become fruitful and produce what is required, that is, we ourselves can begin to sow seeds that others will care for.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Palm Sunday

I want to reflect very briefly on four points in the Passion Narrative.

The Last Supper
What was the mood that evening?  It was meant to be a festive meal, but there was uneasy overtones and a real sense of the coming events over shadowed the twelve. 
Rather quickly they realized that this meal was not about the moment.  It was laying the table (so to speak) for the future.
Despite the darkness of the known betrayal or perhaps because of it, Jesus does something ordinary but full of new meaning, after the blessing he broke bread and gave it to them. But, it was the words that startled them and made this radical and new.
               Take and eat; this is my body
Did they remember Jesus’ words heard on the road to Jerusalem?
I am the bread of life. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
Then he took the cup gave thanks
            Drink from it, all you (Judas!) for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many                                                                   
This table fellowship was Eucharistic.
This is Jesus, the Christ, forever being broken and given, poured out and shared.
This was victory over betrayal and disappointment and a reminder to us that we too are to be broken and given, poured out and shared.

The Garden
After supper, Jesus leads them to the garden where he prays alone.
If possible, Father, let this cup pass from me, yet not as I will, but your will
Jesus is uneasy and afraid and turns to his Father, as he always did.  Jesus does not want take the cup, but in his heart he knows that only the Father’s will matters and it is the Father’s will that Jesus, the loving and obedient son embraces.
It is a little childish and even a little dangerous and to give human attributes to God, who is transcendent and unknowable.  But, Jesus calls him father and came to him as a father.
So perhaps on that night the Father in an unknowable and mysterious way, looked down in something akin to human tenderness, and something akin to human sadness, when he willed ( for our sake) that his son must suffer and die.  Son and Father, wept that night.
It is victory over paralyzing fear and self-interest and a model of courage and selflessness through faith.

The Trial
The temporal power always tries to pass judgment on the divine.  The will of man tries judges the will of God.
Caiaphas the high priest, gathers his cronies in the dead of the night and they bring Jesus bound and shackled into the dim candle lit room where those gathered try to construct a case against Jesus .
None can be made.
Caiaphas in frustration finally demands –
Are the Christ, the Son of God?
 The irony of this self-evident question is not lost on Jesus -
            You have said so “ he replies.
And Jesus adds
           From now on you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power.  
This was blasphemy to their hardened hearts and too dangerous for them to let loose into their world.
Only death could hide the truth (or so they thought)!  But, only Rome had that kind of power.
The Roman authorities try to figure Jesus out.  Jesus doesn’t meet their expectation.  They try to figure out why they should care – political terrorist or crazy holy man. The Romans have only Roman minds and Roman tools and they use them; blunt questions and relentless, but useless torture.
This leads them nowhere; Rome washes her hands of the mess, and opens the door for the crowd to choose Barabbas over Jesus - to choose death over life.
This was victory over pride, anger and self-righteousness and our model for radical humility.

Outside the walls of Jerusalem on a hilltop called Golgotha; the Son of God is raised on the cross.
Jesus, becomes (as he always was) self-gift and redemptive sacrifice.
Jesus crucified, the instrument of our salvation, is an unmerited and undeserved gift and we can never pay it back.
But, as the Holy Spirit teaches us, it does not need to be paid back, only graciously and generously lived out.
Finally, dying on the cross, Jesus looks down onto a familiar face, Satan in the guise of an onlooker who tempts Jesus one last time with the words Jesus knew so well.
If you are the Son of God - come down form the Cross and to sweeten the lie Satan sneers
                and we will believe.
 The final and greatest temptation of evil was to entice Jesus (at the hour of death) to claim his divinity, to choose love of self over love of God, to save himself and not us!
And Jesus would not do it He died for us.
 Jesus, loving obedient and trusting son, refused to deny his Father and to deny our Salvation.  
This is victory over the world, victory over evil, and victory over death.

Along with the Roman soldier, let us proclaim in our hearts and with our lives,
truly this is the Son of God 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I Have Put My Spirit in You

The sisters Mary and Martha reached out to Jesus.  They reached in distress and sadness to their teacher and their friend.  They sent word that their brother Lazarus was near death that the spirit of life was leaving him.

Jesus tells the messenger and those around him that “This illness will not lead to death.” Perhaps they were all relieved that Lazarus would regain his health and life would go on as usual.

But, we know that this was not the case and Lazarus dies before Jesus arrives.

Distraught and dispirited, Martha, upon hearing that Jesus was drawing near, runs out to meet him with tears of sadness and perhaps tears of rage. “Lord if you had been here you would have saved our brother”
Jesus says (I take great liberties here) “I have saved him” How could you “he is already four days in the tomb” Jesus says “I can and I will “for I am the resurrection and the life”.

We must be clear and hold dear that Jesus does not speak of natural, old life, but of the LIFE, ever new and eternal, a life with him and in him, a Spirit filled life. A life that echo’s God’s great promise through revealed through the prophet Ezekiel “I will put my Spirit in you so you may live”

Paul is clear just what Spirit this is;  the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead. This is the spirit, coming forth from Jesus’ command that brings Lazarus back to his natural life.

But, it would be Faith; Martha’s faith, Mary’s faith, Lazarus’ faith, our faith that leads to everlasting life.
A faith that repeats over and over Martha’s confession “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, and the One who comes into the world”

And as Jesus reaches out to comfort Martha, and us all, he could repeat God’s words  “I have put my Spirit in you that you may have life . . . so you might know I am the Lord”

Monday, March 10, 2014

First Sunday of Lent; Choosing to Be Less or to Be More.

We are lucky because we are always in a state of becoming.  We are not static, we are process and potential. God has given us the gift of reason so we can choose and the gift of time to give opportunities. We are formed by the endless stream of choices we make. Each good one builds us up and each poor one weakens us.  Each choice brings us closer to God or further from Him. It is always our choice. But, rarely do we have to make- the choice – that would define our lives, once and for all.
But, today I have two re-imagined stories of a fundamental choice to tell you, stories about righteousness, our right relationship with God, sin, and the insidious of evil.
The Garden
In the beginning the first human beings, Adam & Eve lived in right relationship (that is in righteousness). They were in right relationship with God.  They walked with God.  It was that familiar and natural. They were in right relationship with each other.  Scripture says they didn’t even know they were naked.  They had nothing to hide.  There was only selfless love and the common good. They were in right relationship with the environment.  It was described as a garden.  Every plant was good, all their needs were met and they were good stewards of God’s gift of the garden.
And the sign and symbol of this righteousness, this right relationship of confident trust & loving obedience was the tree in the center of the garden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil which they were forbidden to eat from. 
One day Satan, in the shape of a serpent comes by.
 “Adam what’s up”
“Nothing Satan, what’s up with you”
“Not much, just going for a walk.  How’s the garden?”
“It’s great. Things are really going well for Eve and me.”
“Glad to hear that. Take care, See you around”
Sometime later Satan comes back (evil seems to always come back)
“Long time no see, you two”
Adam & Eve looked up from their gardening  “Hi Satan, what bring you here?”
“Well, I am glad you asked.  I have been thinking about you both and that tree over there”?
“the tree of knowledge of good and evil?” Adam says as he gestures towards it.
“Yah, that one”
“What about it?” Eve says
”Correct me if I’m wrong.  You can eat anything in the garden, but not from that tree, right?”
“Yah, God asked us not to eat from that tree and it seems reasonable to us’
Satan steps closer
“But, that is what bugs me Adam. I think you and Eve are getting a bum deal”
“Really, how so”
“God has given you everything”
“Everything for your benefit”
“Then why are you not using God’s gift of reason?  You know, to think for yourself?”
“Adam & Eve look at each and then back to the serpent
“What do you mean”?
“Let me ask you a question. Do you love God”?
“Absolutely, more than anything”
“Well, if you loved God, as much as you say you do, then why wouldn’t want to know what was good or evil?  If you knew what was good and evil, you would never do anything wrong and God would love you even more than he does now”
“You both would be perfect, like him, and we know how much God loves perfection” He hisses.
In their immaturity, foolishness, and misplaced love this seemed reasonable to them, they were of course, only human. . And so they ate from the tree a “choosing” to be like God (self-sufficient) rather than choosing a trusting dependence on God. They lost their righteousness and perverted their relationship with God and for the first time they hide from God, because now they were afraid of God.
They lost right relationship with each other.  Scripture says they realized they were naked, because now they had something to hide “You made me do it”  “No, you made me do It”. The Self and Ego (with its pride, jealously & fear) took hold of man. The selfish impulse replaced the selfless.
They lost right relationship with the environment. They lost the garden and now had to farm semi-arid desert, deal with drought, famine, and plague, nature was no longer a friend.  Their bodies turned against them in aging and sickness and their spirit was confronted with the dark mystery of death.
This new human condition is the result of turning from God, when Adam & Eve unknowingly released Sin (in all its forms) into the world, and for the individual the new susceptibility to the alluring insidiousness of sin.   Evil always, ready to use whatever is at its disposal to turn us away from God, to sin rather than to love.
The Desert.
After his baptism Jesus was led into the desert, a place of testing, by the Spirit.  After 4o days and 40 nights of fasting scripture says simply “Afterwards he was hungry”
Perhaps, as Jesus has a little water in the cool of the evening watching the sun go down, Satan “The Tempter” shows up.
“What going on? After 40 days you must be starved”.
Jesus answers “I am hungry”
“Me too, what do have to eat”?
“Nothing.” Jesus replies
“No problem” Satan says
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread”
Jesus looks at the stones and then at Satan “I don’t think so”
“Why not?  We’re both hungry”.
“Is not life more than the body”?  Jesus replies.
“one does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”
Satan shrugs, “Ok, forget about the food, I have a better idea”.
“If you are the Son of God throw yourself down from the highest tower in Jerusalem and let His angels
save you.”
“Are you asking me if I am the Son of God or are you asking me to test God”?
“Both” Satan replies.     
“ I know myself and I know God. I need no proof of God’s faithfulness and do not see why you do”?  “You know it is written “you shall not put your God to the test”
Satan smirks “So you won’t feed us or entertain us.” 
“How about this” Satan turns to look out over the darkening horizon.
“ I have some influence over all the kingdoms of the earth.  All their wealth and power is at my command and I will give it all to you.”
“I can make you the greatest king that ever was, worthy of who you are.  Then Satan plays his last card. “You can rule as you please, do good, for all I care.”
“If - only, between you and me, right here in the desert, with no one watching you worship me, just once”
Jesus says, without looking a Satan “I will not sin. I will not forsake God.
 “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
“The Lord your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve”
Jesus chose love of God over love of self, right relationship over a sinful relationship.
The devil left him, we are told, but only for a time because at Jesus’ crucifixion, Satan again appears in the guise of an onlooker at the foot of the cross and using the same words to for the same temptation
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”
What is this all about?
Satan didn’t give a fig for a cheap trick.  He could do cheap tricks galore. He could change stones to bread, he could have his demons catch him in a fall, and he has princely power in the world.  But, he knew who Jesus was and what he was to become and this frightened him. Satan wanted Jesus to claim equality with God that day, wanted him to give into pride, anger and selfishness. Satan wanted to be chastised by a show of power. Satan wanted to be beaten! Satan wanted Jesus to use his will rather than the father’s will. Because, if Jesus had poured forth his glory to banish Satan, that would prove that anyone and everyone could be turned by sin. It would have been of been victory for Evil.
But, Jesus choose powerlessness, humility, and righteous over power, pride and sin. Jesus chose to ”be less” then he was, in the face of every temptation, a foreshadow of the cross, which would  open the door to our redemption and our salvation, which Adam, in choosing  to “be more” than he was had closed.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Leaven & Salt, Transform From Within, 5th Sunday Ordinary Time

Todays Gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus addresses the crowds and delivers the   Beatitudes  “blessed” he tells them.  Blessed are the; mourners, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Now remember Israel was waiting for a princely warrior king messiah that would battle the Romans and expel them from Israel. .Was this the messianic army to drive out the Romans – the meek and the pure of heart?
Now, we must stop for a moment and consider the dynamics of the Kingdom of God according to Jesus.
The Kingdom of God, comes secretly and hidden. It arrives un-expectantly and in unexpected places.
The Kingdom of God is hidden (not because God wants it so) but because the world looks in the wrong places for it, or fails to recognize it, or is willfully blind to it. The kingdom of God is concealed but it is abundanty and effectively active, even where it is not seen.  God transforms everything from within.
The Kingdom of God also does not come following a linear path, it's more tidal, ebbing and flowing in human history. And the Kingdom of God does not destroy; not ages, kingdoms, nations or cultures it infiltrates them with truth, permeates them with light, and transform them according to His will.
 So now, back to the gospel of today. Jesus knew the Roman Empire was not going anywhere. 
He also knew the reign of God had come, had already broken into the Roman world like some weed in a well-manicured garden. Indeed, the Roman Empire was a well-manicured garden, and a well-oiled machine.
It had turn Jesuss home of Galilee into one of its stomping grounds. Herod Antipas, client king of Rome, had turned the Sea of Galilee into a commercial hub of fishing and fish processing and a vital center of merchant shipping. He built his new capital, the splendid and imperial, Tiberius on its western shore to attract pilgrims and tourist on their way to Jerusalem.  Galilee was not a backwater. Roman roads crisscrossed Galilee, Roman commerce moved east to Damascus, north to Jerusalem and west to Mediterranean ports.  Roman taxes were collected and Roman dues paid.  
Jesus had grown up in this Roman world.  It was a world of power, expansion, and commerce.
Jesus saw Roman power as something that could not be beaten, but he also saw that it was already being penetrated by the Kingdom of God, sprouting up like a misplaced seed; small and concealed, but full of promise, and unstoppable by its very nature.
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (and throughout his gospel message) says Gods reign has already begun, growing in our very midst, though it was still hidden from the world too blinded by its own reflection to see the truth. Jesus tells the crowd, those who already have experienced God’s presence: the meek, the merciful, and the pure of heart, even the persecuted are blessed. 

 But, many would still ask where is Gods flaming sword of wrath where is his mighty and glorious army?   We want payback & vengeance not mercy & forgiveness. Jesus knew that God's reign did not, nor would not, come like some glimmering army in the noon day sun, but rather like a commando dropped onshore on a moonless night, behind enemy lines so to speak.
God's kingdom comes like a quite, life giving, breath. Its entry into the world was unassuming but necessary, even critical, like salt and leaven, or as natural as light, and as relentless as a mustard seed.  But, it was also mysterious and marvelous like a hidden pearl or as an unmeasurable treasure buried in an abandoned field.
Jesus also tell us that even though God was concealed, he was, and is, active, like leaven that contributes to generous rising of bread or light, first hidden under a basket, but escaping to illuminates the dark room, or as Jesus says, it is even like city on a hill, first obscured by the morning fog, but when the fog is burned away by the mid-day sun it reveals the perfect glorious city.
And the dynamics of God Kingdom are also the dynamics of Gods people. Like those living in 1st century Galilee we are constrained and limited to our time & place and the powers that be. But, Jesus reminds us that we are not prisoners or slaves of that power. He shows us we do not have to give in to the shimmering allure of the dominate culture nor do we to run from the inequalities of absolute power.  
We can dig in and work from within; building up Gods Kingdom right in the very center of our culture; brick by brick,  making one better choice at a time, one act of kindness or one act of forgiveness.We infiltrate
 pride with humbleness, we permeate greed with generosity,and we transform meanness by kindness.
We can transform, by God’s grace and our patient hard work, the entire culture, starting with ourselves first, than our marriages and families which then spills out and permeates the school and playground, the workplace, the parish, the community and the nation, everywhere and always choosing human dignity over human commerce and the common good over the private good. We can use the world to better the world, we can use the culture to make the culture better, we do not hate the world for what it has become but we love it for what it was meant to be.  Blessed indeed those that already do this.
But, if we do not choose the better and the good and we don't share the many gifts we receive from God, his kingdom remains hidden because we are inactive and sterile, we are salt that loses its value and light that remains hidden in darkness. 
But, we are children of light and faithful servants and our mission and our goal is to be the light of Christ that illuminates the dark corners of suffering, and to grow like the humble mustard seed into a tree capable of - in Isaiahs words, 
 “To share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, cloth the naked and not turn our back on our own and remove from our midst, false accusations and malicious speech”
  We are capable of this and even greater things, even if they are small things. God's kingdom is here in our very midst. We must live this reality and we must proclaim it. How do we proclaim this good news? Jesus tells us loud and clear
 “Your light must shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”
May the good work God has begun in us and the world come to fruition and fulfillment.