Lent?

I have to tell you the truth, my thoughts and emotions have been so often concerned with the Covid-19 pandemic that I sort have forgotten that we’re in the season of Lent. Every once in a while, it dawns on me and I sort of just stop in my tracks and I wonder, Rats, I’m just not thinking about Lent… what about my Lenten discipline? What about my Lenten reading?

Lent is often imagined as a wilderness event. A time for isolation and introspection. Isolation is not the worst of this new reality we find ourselves in. For many health and livelihood are at stake. We are all thrown into a world of fear, uncertainty and anxiety.

We might be tempted to question to reliability of faith in these times. Where was God when this happened or is this God’s judgement on us? Much like the disciples in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus dismisses these ideas. These things happen and God will be revealed. We must work the works of him who sent us.

In a very short period of time we’ve all had our lives disrupted by the pandemic. Disruption is not easy; nor is the fear and uncertainty we are feeling.

Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and modern-day mystic, wrote, “We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.  But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us.”

So the challenge for us is to slow down, accept this new reality, listen for the deeper lessons that this can teach us. In the midst of it all, remember to lean into the consolation of the truth that God is always present always compassion, always love.

I’ll end with a wonderful prayer from the BCP keeps coming back to me. It’s a collect from evening prayer.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Look Out For Your Neighbors

I have a backlog of homilies I’m going to post. The last few weeks for me, as I’m sure for anyone who happens on this wordpress site, has been busy, anxious, and maybe a little fearful. It’s been hard and promises to get harder still.

Here is my homily for Lent 3

Jesus always seem to know who he should talk to and who he shouldn’t talk to and he didn’t seem to give too much attention to commonly help social norms. It was really unheard of for a Jewish man, let alone a rabbi, to speak with a Samaritan woman.

It challenges me the way Jesus can do this and makes me think about who I reach out to and who I don’t and why. But it also encourages me the way Jesus does this.

It’s thrilling the way he continually upsets the apple cart of social and religious expectations. But speaking to this woman he met at the well, and speaking to her where she was at, and offering her something she really needed spiritually was what Jesus was really about. He wasn’t here principally to upset the apple cart of Jewish purity laws. He was here to simply be human.

That was always a foundational purpose of Jesus’ ministry, to make us understand that we are human, and that being human we are connected to God and one another.

Our Presiding Bishop Curry recently shared this regarding the current pandemic that we are facing and may be fearing:

“In this time when we are all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether directly or indirectly, whether physically, biologically, psychologically, spiritually, and for many economically, it may be helpful to remember that we’re in this together.

Jesus came among us in the first place, to show us the way to be right and reconciled with the God who is the creator of us all, and right and reconciled with each other as children of this one God who has created us all, and therefore as sisters, brothers, and siblings, one of another.

Jesus came to show us how to be in a relationship with God and in relationship with each other, came to show us how to live not simply as collections of individuals with self-interests, but how to live as the human family of God. That’s why he said love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Because in that is hope for all of us to be the human family of God.

So look out for your neighbors, look out for each other. Look out for yourselves. Listen to those who have knowledge that can help to guide us medically and help to guide us socially. Do everything that we can to do this together, to respond to each other’s needs and to respond to our own needs.”

Jesus responded to the needs of the woman who came to draw water at the well. During this time of great uncertainty when we do need to be careful and smart about what we are doing, we also need to remember to be human and care for one another.

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told a parable. The highlight of this parable reads as follows, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Keep one another in your prayers and thoughts.

Amen.

Temptation

We read that Jesus was lead into the wilderness to be tempted. Now that is curious. It makes it seem like temptation is part of the package. Part of what it means to be human and a person of faith.

In this story the temptation is a hook. A hook that tried to pull Jesus away from his intention. He was hungry and the temptation presented the end of purposeful sacrifice. He was seeking God in contemplation and the temptation presents a short cut to the mountain top experience. He was being called to ministry of service and the temptation presented an alternate path to fulfillment.

These temptations were specific to Jesus. But many teachers tell us that these temptations are universal in there meaning. They are archetypes of the human condition.

Turning stones to bread might typify the lure of the immediate cessation of suffering through the gratification of self. Jesus taught and lived the opposite; that enlightenment, self-actualization, salvation, is gained through the long game of patience, letting go of ego, unattachment, and trusting the Spirit within.

The holy scriptures and the mystics teach us that momentary suffering can be a pathway to fullness and wholeness; of joy and peace. Life is full of changes and chances and we are called to live into and through it with courage and gratitude. Numbing ourselves to life’s challenges is surely a temptation of modern life. This story is teaching us to face our suffering, find the path through it to life.

The pinnacle of the Temple might typify the lure of superior belief. A belief that is beyond doubt and has all the answers. When dogma becomes the pinnacle of faith then we’ve replaced faith with something else. Hard and fast rules can be comforting; knowing all the answers can make it simple. Take away all doubt and we might think we have achieved the pinnacle movement.

Is God there? Is Christ risen? Is love really at the heart of all creation? It is ok and good to think on these questions with an open and contrite heart. Seek God in the darkness of contemplation and be transformed.

We are called to seek God in the early morning and at the noon day and in the evening and like Elijah we will not hear the Almighty in the earthquake, or the fire, or the surging wind; we will finally hear God in the still small voice coming from the interior places of our hearts.

The view of all the nations of the world might typify the lure of power and prestige, of wealth and political action. This world’s broken systems offer us a mesmerizing but false antidote for the ills they bring upon us.

God’s dream for the world is a kingdom of peace and love where all of creation is swept together into a harmonious whole, ending war, hate, greed; where people live together for the common good, and the earth is revered and held precious where healing and wholeness is the goal. How do we achieve this dream? The temptation is to think “by any means necessary”.

the nations of the earth are what the holy scriptures calls the principalities and powers. They embody wealth, power, prestige. We, who are baptized into Christ, are called to the Way of Love. This way is counter-intuitive to what is offered by the world system. We follow Christ… not Empire, Corporation, or party.

Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and came through with a greater understanding of the big picture of God the world and self. The temptations didn’t end there but this time in the wilderness made it clear as to what direction his life would take.

We are called to a similar path. Loving God and loving our neighbor.

Amen.

Ashes

There has been an ongoing argument around the meanings of the words “religious” and “spiritual” for a long time. Spiritual for many is a much better term than religion. It’s kinder, it’s more universal, and has less baggage attached to it.

I sympathize with those who don’t have much to say for “organized religion”. There’s good reason for criticism. For too much of history and for way too many people religion just means bad religion; has been and still is in many respects patriarchal, hierarchical, spiritually oppressive and abusive.

This is just what the prophet Isaiah and Jesus were addressing, I think. They point to their generations and in not so subtle terms question the motives of those who practice religion. And so at the beginning of Lent we are challenged to ask the same questions of ourselves.

More than what we believe, our religion is also what we do. We are enjoined as a faith community to practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, study, and worship. These are what we do as church. These practices sustain us week by week. They are good; in them we find consolation, hope, and courage.

Of course, spirituality is deeper work than just observing simple spiritual practices. Spiritual practices are pathways to self-awareness and transformation where we learn to observe deeper movements of thought and emotion; where we begin to listen deeply to self.

Confronting the self is not easy. That’s why the language we read in Holy Scripture is so stark and confrontational. The self can be dark and full of pitfalls. The ego can be twisted and overpowering. If we stick to it though, we uncover negative ways of thinking and feeling and learn lay them aside. This is the necessary work the prophets and Jesus call us to.

Prayer, study, worship, the sacraments, and even fasting can be and should be pathways of transformation. We are taught in Holy Scripture and by faithful teachers to lean into the deeper lessons that these practices offer us. When we fail to do that, then these same practices sort of become hollow and superficial, and worse, they can become props for the ego.

A better and more authentic approach is to be humble, simple, and open to where our practices take us.  The outcome of that will be freedom, a lightness of being, and a heart blamelessly filled with love. That’s good news!

Amen.

It is said… but I tell you.

This passage of the Gospel of Matthew falls within what we call the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus climbs to the top of a hill and teaches his disciples. In all Gospel stories Jesus challenges, and oftentimes, opposes the current interpretation of Holy Scripture, particularly the Commandments.

He dismissed some commandments like working on the sabbath, downplays the importance of others like the purity codes of not touching lepers, eating with unwashed hands, etc., reduces all the commandments to two; love God and love neighbor, and redefines commandments as we heard today in Matthew’s Gospel.

This might be the most difficult passage in the Gospels and maybe the most misappropriated of all Jesus’ words. It’s too often the church tends to use the Holy Scripture, even Jesus’ words as a means of separation and discrimination forgetting how Jesus spoke of these things and how he applied the scripture in his ministry.

But there’s no denying that these are uncomfortable words. Jesus takes the Commandments and then takes them further. You have heard… but I say. Wow. It’s uncomfortable. It’s another challenge. Jesus is saying to his followers that the commandments always speak to something deeper. They speak to attitudes and motivations; they speak to the heart and not to the head.

He also seems to be wanting to demolish our fondness for making rule-following the point of the spiritual life. Following rules can be safe. Following rules can be comforting and unfortunately, following rules can give us a false sense of rightness… and that just won’t do.

Jesus called his first disciples into a relationship not a legal transaction and relationships go way beyond legal transactions.

Richard Rohr says of the law, the commandments and rules, that “The purpose of them is to make us struggle with them long enough so that we can find real purpose. It’s in the struggle that we learn. Ask yourself, “What is the message in this for me? Why do I continually have difficulty following this law? Where is this desire or compulsion coming from? What is it telling me about the nature of my soul?” The point is to bring awareness to the struggle, to let it teach you, and to let it lead you to a new place.”

Jesus words here are not a judgement but a challenge to go deeper; where we learn to ask the harder questions of ourselves and our world, to see with eyes of faith, and open ourselves to the love that is at the core of creation and challenges us to be be whole.

Thanks Be to God…this is good news!

#RichardRohr

Salt and Light

Sometimes I feel as though I’m plowing in a field that has been planted with the same crop for a hundred years and getting ready to plant that same crop again. So here I am preaching on “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world”.

Light and salt were important and powerful elements in the ancient world. They were commodities as a matter of fact.

The world they lived in was a dark world. When the sun went down it was lights out where small lamps could give indistinct and temporary light to the home. Lighting candles was out of the question for most people as they were too expensive.

Salt was an important and necessary part of ancient life. Helping preserve food, used medicinally, and even as a currency. Roman legionnaires were often paid in salt and salt was a valuable trading item.

Salt and light are inextricably part of who we are. Our bodies contain something like .4 percent salt. We are as salty as the oceans and at the sub-atomic level our bodies are nothing but particles of the same kind found in the stars. We are products of God’s Big Bang, sharing our birth with that of all things.

Jesus uses these two images, salt and light, as powerful metaphors pointing to people of faith who have come through to learn the lessons of the spiritual life.

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  1. Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

  1. Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

  1. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

  1. Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

  1. Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

  1. Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

  1. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We should be clear that the Beatitudes are not about waiting for heaven; they are not about the blessings we’ll receive when we pass from this poor old world; they are a powerful alternative vision of what it means to be blessed in this life. Jesus is pointing out the counter-intuitive nature of faith; of the spiritual life.

Theologian and Episcopal Priest, Marcus Borg wrote:

“The gospel of Jesus—the good news of Jesus’ own message—is that there is a way of being that moves beyond conventional wisdom (whether secular or religious). The path of transformation of which Jesus spoke leads from a life of requirements and measuring up, to a life of relationship with God. It leads from a life of anxiety to a life of peace and trust. It leads from the bondage of self-preoccupation to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It leads from life centered in [popular] culture to life centered in God.”

The beatitudes are the center. The anchor of the transformed life. Christ invites us to this path of transformation. This is where we become the light and salt for the world.

Amen.

Presentation

Luke 2:22-40
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

This passage, like so many, is loaded with little nuggets of information and possible spiritual insight. This homily, if I can call it that, is more an attempt at pointing out a few things that I see in these scriptures without getting too deep into the weeds. I hope what I share speaks to us in some way as individuals and maybe to us as a faith community as well.

This passage reveals something about the Law of Moses and something about the Holy Family. We read that when Joseph and Mary bring their little boy to the Temple to be presented before God, they bring with them two turtledoves (two young pigeons) for a sacrifice. The Law according to Moses made exception to those who could not afford a lamb or a goat or a cow for sacrifice. They could bring small birds instead.

The parents of Jesus were of the poorest class of people in first century Palestine. This did much to inform his later ministry, I think as much as his cultural and religious background and his personal spiritual experience. Jesus was a champion of the poor as was the scripture tradition he grew up with.

I think we often forget that Jesus was born into poverty. This probably wasn’t the kind of poverty that was life threatening or debilitating. This was more along the lines of poverty where it’s hard to make ends meet and where people had to rely on family and community to remain well fed and safe. Something our world knows too well and something that Jesus spoke about often. Our world, as was Jesus world, a world of those who have and those who don’t. The Missio Dei, the Mission of God in the world today is still to lift up the poor and care for the desperate. This is a wrong that needs to be righted.

The idea of animal sacrifice is also difficult to relate to. This is a hard concept for us moderns to accept. How can we reconciling killing of animals in worship? For most of human existence this was part of our religious experience. Something happened to change that. Many scholars of religion, and some of my favorite theologians talk about this in terms of infantile religion. Meaning, that we humans had to grow up and out of certain ways of thinking and relating to the divine.

A deeper dive into the Holy Scripture reveals this change. Moses codified sacrifice of animals as a legitimate ritual meant to purge people from their guilt and a way to confirm their faith in God by giving of their livelihood while the Prophets later declared that God never cared for the sacrifice of animals and called the people of Israel to be reconciled to God in their hearts and by their actions; that the true sacrifice was a contrite heart and acts of mercy towards others.

Simeon, a spiritual man, was moved to speak when he saw Jesus. His words are part of our BCP’s Prayer at the End of the Day or Compline. You can read them on page 135; “Lord you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised, for these eyes of mine have seen the savior, whom you have prepared the world to see, a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel”.

Then he says to Mary. “It is destined for your son to be the rising and falling of many in Israel.” Our translation reads “He will be a sign of opposition”. A better translation might read, “He will be a sign of contradiction, so that the thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own heart too”.

Mary loved Jesus and suffered as her son grew and entered ministry. And this suffering is not just for Mary. Anyone who gets close to Christ will suffer because getting close will force us to confront our thoughts; confront our inner selves. Yes, that means our sins and failures; more importantly perhaps it means our ego and willfulness which requires sacrifice to overcome.

So today on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord we are confronted in our readings with the sacrifice of Christ, which pierced the heart of Mary his mother, and pierces our own heart as well; opening a way to real spiritual renewal and inviting us into closer and closer relationship with God.

Amen.

Called to Follow

Jesus went into retreat after hearing about John’s arrest.

He went to Capernaum.  It must have been a difficult time for him. He must have been saddened by this event and probably intimidated. He clearly was also energized.

He left his home in Nazareth. He left what he was familiar with and what he was comfortable with. And though he must have understood that what he was about to do could be dangerous, Jesus picked up where John left off.

John was his beginning. John introduced Jesus to all who would listen. For Jesus, John’s arrest and detention meant that he was to begin his own ministry. And after he began his public ministry, he began to call disciples.

A disciple is a devoted follower. Someone who learns step by step the way of their teacher. It required leaving things behind, letting things go, and making life changes. Always the goal is greater understanding, peace, and wholeness.

The men Jesus called left everything to follow him. This may not have been the first time they encountered Jesus. Word had begun to spread already of John at the Jordan and this one come to be baptized, and now he began to wander and preach. Maybe excitement about John and now Jesus was high and maybe they had reached a point in their lives where they were just ready to follow?

Jesus taught them that true spiritual development was only attained through humility, simplicity, and descent; giving yourself away. It took the disciples three years, and a crucifixion to understand. And we are privileged to read the story of Jesus and his disciples year after year.

Why would Jesus ask these men to give up their jobs and families? (Women too by the way. There were a number of women who were with Jesus and the 12. They were disciples as well. Following Jesus probably more faithfully than Peter and John and the rest.)

In any case I think discipleship, real transformative discipleship, the kind that Jesus called his friends and us to, requires loss. It’s hard to ask the right questions when we are satisfied and comfortable.

Jesus said to his disciples and all those who were following, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” That’s a steep cost. Crosses though come in many shapes and sizes. To be a disciple, to learn of Jesus is to accept a deep work within ourselves.

The spiritual life is in largely a work of renunciation, where we learn to turn away from sins small and great; from ego and self-preservation, from fear and hate and more and more we learn to embrace love and mercy and find grace.

Jesus said to the crowds, “‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Amen

The Baptism of Our Lord

Jesus was baptized in the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance, that is, John called people to repentance, to turn from their selfish and small view of life; to turn to God, the creator, who calls us to greater things. Baptism was a sign. A sign of a new beginning.

Jesus came to John for this baptism and John wondered. How could Jesus come to this baptism; This was a baptism of repentance. Jesus said, “Let this be so for now… for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus becomes an object lesson. We must all begin on the right foot.

Baptism is an initiation right. It is the beginning. It is the eternal beginning.

When Jesus came out of the water the voice of God declared “This is my child, my Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” The Apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, wrote this, “Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?” We are joined with Christ in his baptism.

This is the mystery of baptism. The voice of God to Christ is the voice of God to all of us. When we are touched by the waters of baptism this is the grace of the sacrament. The voice proclaims, “You are my beloved”.

Here is something I think we often… probably too often… forget. We are children of God. We are beloved of God. This is the beginning of our journey with God. Not necessarily the act of baptism. The sacrament is only the outward sign of an inner and spiritual grace. The grace is this, the pronouncement of the fact that we are beloved. Loved by God beyond measure, and more, we belong to God. We are of the household of God.

We must hear this this. “You are my beloved daughter”, “You are my beloved son”, “You are my beloved” This is the foundation of our spiritual life. If we cannot hear that, if we cannot understand that, then our beginning is flawed

The church has not done a great job with this, and surely the world hasn’t. Too often we hear this, “if you only can measure up, if only you can behave properly, if only you can achieve success, etc. then you will be worthy.”

Baptism is the proclamation of God’s truth about you. At baptism the voice of God rings out, “You are my beloved child. And with you I am well pleased”. Hearing that and taking it to heart will make all the difference. It will transform us.

Filled with this amazing word of God echoing in our hearts, that we are the beloved, we will begin… I mean, we’ll really begin to live. We will know who we are and what we are, no matter what anyone says or what anything does. We are the beloved of God… belonging forever.

Thanks be to God.

Epiphany

If we read today’s Gospel story as a metaphor, a parable, it holds some deep and valuable spiritual lessons for us.

Later Jesus would tell similar stories that would teach us about the Kingdom of God.

The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. A man found it, and he concealed it. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In the story of the Wise Men we are invited to understand that seeking Christ is a journey. A long journey. A journey that will comfort us as well as challenge us; and in the end a journey that calls us to lay down our precious gifts. The spiritual life is more about letting go than accumulating. It’s about giving up self not building ego.

The Wise Men are us. Who divine by intuition what is true and what is false. The story invites us to listen deeply; Not always to those who should know and maybe never to those in places of power, but to God who sees and hears and knows all mysteries. We need to learn to use our heart and not just our head when seeking Christ.

T S Eliot in his poem The Journey of the Magi writes about how encountering the Christ child changed the trajectory not just of the world but of the lives of the Magi. This is written in the voice of one of those travelers.

“All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.”

Theirs was a journey of transformation. They went away changed and Eliot creates an image that they went away dissatisfied with how things are. They sought Christ and found Christ and that forced them to rethink everything.

If we should listen to even a quaint story like the Wise Men from the east with a spiritual ear, with open mind and heart then I think we’ll learn much about what it means to seek Christ, and maybe much about finding him. The promise is, once we find, as in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Then [we] shall see and be radiant; [our] hearts shall thrill and rejoice” and with Paul we will understand The Mystery hidden for long ages past.

Thanks be to God.