Thursday, August 28, 2014

19th Sunday, Who Walks On Water

Miracles always get our attention, but we must remember that miracles are not events unto themselves. 

They are signs of a new reality, beyond the conventions of our time and place.

Miracles always point to something else beyond themselves.

Jesus knew this and often said he could only do what he saw his father do and when ask how he could cure the sick he said that it was only a sign that the kingdom of God had drawn near.

 Miracles are certainly not a show of power (it is good to remember the temptation of power that Jesus turned away from in the desert), rather miracles are about surrender of self and a pouring out of Gods grace especially in the signs and wonders that Jesus did.

Miracles, also tell us something about ourselves and our relationship to God and his kingdom.

Last week in the feeding of the multitude we learned about Eucharistic communion, radical compassion and solidarity with those who gathered around Jesus and that we too are to be bread that is broken and shared.

Today we reflect on that to be shared, we sometimes need to leave the safety of the boat.

 So Who walks on water?

 Matthew's account of Jesus walking on the water follows Mark's account pretty closely.

Both reveal who Jesus is by what he does. What only God can do.

This is an epiphany, an encounter with God in this world.

And in hearing about this epiphany, we are meant to bring other epiphanies to mind as well.  Other times God comes to man as in the first reading when God passes before Ezekiel.

And we learn God often comes not as one might expect in billowing thunder clouds, "Elohim" the God of power and magistracy or in a scorching fire or the rumbling earthquake, something grand, terrifying and sublime, but instead God comes quietly and expectantly, in something like the whisper of a passing breeze.

This divine self-revelation is interesting, but what is important is that Ezekiel recognizes God's surprising presence. If he didn't, God would of passed by unnoticed. No encounter would of taken place. Blind to God's presence Ezekiel would of remained alone.

This openness and awareness to recognize God presence is the heart of the matter in all miracle stories.

 The disciples after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000  we're told by Jesus to get in the boat and cross over to the opposite shore while he himself sent the crowd away and then went to pray alone. Jesus wanted to clear the air and defuse any false notion.

 It was a clear sign to the disciples (who might of wanted to hang out and bask in Jesus' glory) and to the crowd ( who John, in his Gospel, says wanted to make him king) that it was wasn't about his power and his prestige, what he could do.  It was all about God's Kingdom come.

 In the pre-dawn darkness of the fourth watch a sudden storm overtook the disciples in their boat and they were in grave danger and stricken by fear.

Through the whipping wind, the pouring rain and the churning seas they saw a figure approaching walking on the water.  They do not recognize Jesus (they were not thinking of him and since they don't expect to see him - don't) and so this mysterious figure approaching throws them into even greater terror they try out  - it is a ghost.

 But, Jesus in a voice that cuts through the storm, (imagine how loud that stormy night was).

"Courage, it is I -.he says do not be afraid"

It is I - the self-description of God. What Moses heard on the mountain.

Jesus is telling them that even now in their peril and fear God is present - present in Jesus' own being.

 And now Peter sees, but perhaps isn't quite sure for he calls out

"Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water"

If it is you Lord!

Isn't it always the question verbalized or not when encounter God?

We want proof when our encounter with The Lord doesn't meet our expectation and we fail to recognize God's presence. Peter needs proof.

"come" Jesus invites.

If you need proof step into the sea Jesus seems to be saying.

 Peter jumps into the sea and for a short jubilant time walks on the water towards Jesus.

But quickly, Peter takes his eyes (and heart and mind) off of Jesus.

Peter loses his bearing.  He realizes what he has gotten himself into, as he feels, the now very real storm that surrounds him. As, Peter's spirit sinks so does his body.

 And he cries out "Lord, save me"

How often have these words been spoken?

And just as often, Jesus immediately reaches out and grasps Peter's hand saves him from going under and they return to the boat.

It is important to take a moment to recognize the fact that Jesus is found, not in the safety of the boat, but out there, in the turbulence of the storm.

To reach Jesus, Peter had to leave the relative safety of the boat.

In faith (even if it was little faith) Peter needed to take a chance, he needed to step over the edge and that is a good thing, but he also found out, as we all do, that we cannot walk on water.

It is not who we are.  But, we can trust that with the help of The Lord anything is possible.

Now with Jesus and the rescued Peter back in the boat the storm is stilled by Jesus' command. Think of the God of Genesis stilling the primordial waters.

 In Mark's version the disciples are amazed, but don't connect the dots, they do not understand the meaning of the feeding of the multitude nor Jesus' coming on the water nor the stilling of the storm.  They are not as sharp as Ezekiel.

 In Matthew they are brighter and having just wittiness Jesus's command of nature and following the lead of Peter, proclaim the truth they had experienced "truly you are the Son of God"

 Every miracle Jesus did was an opportunity to enlightened minds and hearts revealing the new reality that could not only calm storms and move mountains, but heal the sick, restore sight, bring joy to the oppressed, comfort to those in need and even raise the dead.  These signs and wonders of Jesus changed the world and continue to transform believers.

 Last week we learn to be eucharistic people, who out of joyful compassion and profound  solidarity are to be broken, given and shared with others.  And now we are shown that to do this we must often, if not always, leave the security of the boat, wither it be our attitudes, our life style, our comfort zone or even our parish pews. We must get up and go!

We must be willing to step into the storm, the uncertainties and complexities of life, to find God or better still, allow ourselves to be found by God in the din or the stillness, either way always trusting that how many times Jesus says "come" he will always reach out his hand to help us reach him.

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.