Inclusive Text- Readings- Ezekiel 37: 21-28 / Psalm: Jeremiah 31: 10-12ABCD, 13 / John 11: 45-56
Think back to a time when you coordinated a project, knew something was wrong but could have gone right, messed up by others, but decided to take the blame and fall on the sword. You may have been involved to some degree knowing that everyone contributed their best but no other course could have been taken. It didn’t mean you had to suffer and die for it but perhaps you avoided going to the end because of fear. Something so minor in that sense, but what would happen, we would get through it, right?
On the other hand, as we know, Jesus had to go through it. Jesus in essence had to fall on the sword because so much was at stake. The soul of humanity was at hand. Jesus could have turned back and leave God, but he knew deep down inside it had to be done.
What were the times in our lives when we could not turn back? What forced us to make the decisions that we had made when it came to others? Could we have turned back? If we did, why? When we didn’t, what gave us the courage to speak up for the cause?
rev. Michael Theogene
Inclusive Text- Readings- Jeremiah 20: 10-13 / Psalm 18: 2-3ABC, 4-7 / John 10: 31-42
Inclusive Text- Readings- Jeremiah 7: 23-28 / Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9 / Luke 11: 14-23
Sisters and brothers, who is it that we rely on for our strength? Do we put our desire for strength in other humans or do we come and place our trust in the one who created us? Sometimes trust in others whether it is close friends or family can be good, but what happens to our trust when those individuals may put us down? This may not always happen but it can because we are only human. What happens to the trust we put in the Creator? Have we found ourselves disappointed?
It seems that it is us who can disappoint God which we know that is never the case. God sees and knows our potential but yet is always patient and gracious towards us and allows us to find our way. Hopefully with God’s help, we can find a way to be able to listen to God’s voice. Listening with the ear of our heart as St. Benedict reminds us. We may be waiting for the lightning bolt to show us what to do, but if we truly quiet our hearts and mind than we can get a glimpse of the whisper of what God is actually trying to tell us.
You have heard it said, God’s delay is not God’s denial as we are reminded by so much in the first and second testament writings. I sometimes believe that if we live without expectation then we will be truly blessed because we will never be disappointed.
rev. Michael Theogene
Today our Old Testament reading is about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, and Elisha, the prophet of God. The story is 27 verses, the entire 5th chapter of the 2nd Book of Kings. But, we only get 3 verses in the Lectionary. I would guess that most people are not familiar with the “rest of the story”, and it is a fascinating story. Some of these ideas came from Walter Brueggemann, a well known author & scholar of the Old Testament, and I thought they were worth sharing.
Naaman was highly respected by the King of Syria, for he was a skilled leader and very successful in battle. BUT, he was “a leper”, with repulsive sores and flakey, scaly skin. It would cost him his military/political career and his social position if he didn’t find a cure.
In an ironic twist, Naaman’s wife had a slave girl from Israel, captured in a raid, and this slave knew of the miracles done by the prophet Elisha. So the King of Syrian gave Naaman a letter of introduction to the King of Israel, and Naaman set off, loaded with 10 silver coins, 6,000 gold pieces and 10 expensive sets of clothing, a fortune really, to buy his healing.
Well, the King of Israel tore his clothing in despair, thinking this must be an excuse for the Syrians to invade and destroy Israel, because clearly, no one could cure leprosy. But Elisha heard about the ruckus, and suggested that the king send Naaman to him.
When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s door, Elisha didn’t even bother to come out. He just sent someone else to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the muddy old river Jordon. Naaman was infuriated. He was certain Elisha would at least wave his hands over him, say prayers, and invoke the Israelite God to cure him. So Naaman was in a rage, “We have better, cleaner rivers in Damascus, I could have stayed home and washed in a river!” He turned to leave, but his servants reasoned with him. “It’s a simple thing to do. You would have done something difficult if he told you to, why not at least try?” He did, and he was not only healed, but his skin was as smooth and clean as a child’s.
Now, no story is complete until you place it in the culture of the time, and in the Middle East then, you always had to reciprocate for any favor. So Naaman returns to pay Elisha. And Naaman even adds a confession of faith, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” Elisha refuses any payment. No co-pay, no professional fees, no deductable, no monthly premium, no bill to be sent in the mail. And then, Naaman has a curious request – could he please take 2 mule loads of dirt, so he can worship no other god except the Lord, on Israeli soil, at home, in Syria. People equated worship with a physical and geographical place, and Naaman wanted some of that “place” to take home.
He also added one little caveat to the deal. He would still have to enter the Damascus temple of the idol Rimmon with the King, and he wanted forgiveness in advance for bowing down to that idol for social and political reasons, with the understanding that he believed the Lord was the one true God. Now, what do you suppose Elisha’s reply to that was?
Elisha said, “Go in peace.” “Go in Peace”?? That was not what I expected. I was waiting for a fiery, “If the Lord is God, bow to HIM!! Why would Elisha be so calm about pre-planned idolatry from this man whose life has just been saved by God? I find it amazing.
Elisha was not in the business of selling health care, after all. He was in the business of peace. He brought peace to Naaman, who came knowing only fear and death.
Elisha brought peace to many people by healing a dreaded disease; he contributed to the common good by overcoming suffering.
Elisha brought peace because now a powerful and well known leader has confessed that the Lord is the only source of power and healing.
Elisha contributed to a step toward peace between Israel and Syria. If more people did that, our world would be a different place today.
Elisha gave us all a reminder of the abundance of God’s love and healing, which is freely, abundantly given to all. Elisha, like God, did not hire a staff that counts our failures or the times we feel we must bow to some idol. God does not barter for peace. The peace of God, like rain, falls on the just and the rest of us.
Finally, Elisha chose to remain free to move on in peace himself, not bound by any missteps by others. He had God’s work to do; he would focus on the good & not concern himself with judgments. He would stay free to let God’s spirit move as and when it would.
My grandchildren tell me they don’t like Christians because they’re in your face and pushy about their religion, but yet don’t seem to know much about their faith. It sounds like the Christians they meet aren’t in the peace business. Are they looking for some kind of paybacks, such as increasing church attendance and donations? Are they unfamiliar with the work of God’s Spirit?
Even if we were the only ones in town in the peace business, the only ones who seem interested in freely handing out the sacraments without barriers, feeding the hungry, distributing laundry baskets, and caring for the elderly, that’s all right. We can be the only ones who end every encounter with peace, who move on to the next encounter without noting the failures of our brothers and sisters. We can affirm each other, complete with those idols we each cling to. We can spend less time and effort worrying about our scales and our flakey-ness, and focus instead on something constructive.
Peace is the gift that heals us all, but peace spreads by our contact with each other, one at a time. Then we are ready to praise and worship the God of love and healing and peace.
The first reading from Habakkuk sounds like something we might see on TV or see in the newspaper today. Violence, discord, war, evil. Why must we look at misery. Yet throughout history, these things seem like a constant following humanity throughout the ages. Contrary to this, God gives a vision, a look at a time of fulfillment and peace. He calls for faith, but what is that? Faith is not stability or security, it is not a thing, but a call to act. It is more of a verb to do what we are supposed to do. To act and carry out and move on with our lives. It is doing what is expected of us in our commitment to Christ and living out the trust placed in us and our lives. It is doing the expected tasks without any presumption of reward. Certainly, times of darkness and feelings of being lost are possible, but the reign of God is the end and goal of our faith.
What must the Apostles today have experienced to ask for an increase of faith? Yet, Jesus told them the smallest amount of faith, compared to one of the smallest seeds of earth was sufficient to do miraculous things. Faith is doing what we are called to do in our daily lives. Yes,we are capable of great deeds, but as the parable indicates we like the servants or slaves are called to do what was our place in life. Such activity shows our trust and faith and leads us to our final vision. But let us not forget that faith or that trust God gives us is a gift, one he gives and waits for our response. His gift is a call to action on our part, and a call we should respond to each day regardless of our mood or feelings. Living each day as we are called to do is how we complete the call Christ has made to us. In return his love for us is complete.
Once again today we are reminded of wealth and poverty and our responsibilities in using worldly goods. Why, we might say, are we always talking about the poor? Poverty is a relative term and means different things in different parts of the world. Wherever we go in the world, we are going to find poverty and poor people. It is just a proven fact that no society or country can simply eliminate poverty from their midst. Even in our own country, if we recall the “War on Poverty,” we know that while it helped poor people, it did not eliminate poverty. Yet, Jesus keeps reminding us that we have a responsibility to those around us, a responsibility born out of a love of God and a love of neighbor that should fill us as we make our commitment at baptism. Not all of us are called to live a life of poverty or a religious life in some religious order. But all of us are called to be responsible to ourself and others in our daily life. How we live and how we act toward others, is certainly reflective of our beliefs and values. What are we to do, if a hungry man is before us? There is no easy answer, but have we done what we can or do we simply leave it to others? Can we really live in comfort if we can see and experience the discomfort of others? The important thing is that we try, and that we do
not forget. If we truly love our neighbor, we can’t forget that we all have needs and wants. Christ often reminds us we should not get too comfortable but to reach out to others in need, whether it be physical, psychological, or spiritual. We are called to share what many call our time or treasure or talent. It doesn’t mean we are called to invest our whole lives, but certainly at times we can give of one or more of these. In reality, it means we are giving of ourself, of what I am and what I have and can share out of love of Jesus and his love for all of us. Never forget that often it is not the grand gestures that captures the hearts and heals others, but the simple day-to-day things to bring a sense of comfort to another. Openness, loving and sharing, sometimes just presence or listening is the best formula for a loving peaceful life.
Today, the readings talk about wealth and power. I think many believers feel that Jesus was opposed to wealth and the wealthy and to those who rule and have power. I think the first thing we must realize is Jesus did not condemn the wealthy or the rulers who had power, but was most concerned about how the wealth and power was used. The prophet Amos today tells us how much the Lord abhors those who take advantage of the poor, or even cheats them. The Lord will never forget them or their lack of love and abuse of fellow creatures. Every person is valuable to him.
In the gospel, many become confused that the owner praises the servant who takes measures to insure his future by granting discounts in his master’s name. Like a two edge sword, the servant curries favor and some security while at the same time presenting his master as generous and giving and caring. What seeming praise he gets, is that yes he somehow solves the immediate problem, but, and there always is a but, what of the future and his relationship to God. Can a truly dishonest person have a loving relationship with God. It is interesting that Luke uses the word Mammon. Mammon is an Aramaic word which means trust or believe. A word we use frequently comes from the same root and also means trust or believe. That word is “Amen” which we use to affirm “I believe” or trust. So ultimately, we see that Jesus is asking us where we place our trust, our belief. Are we children of the present time or place, looking out for ourselves or are we Children of God looking to the future? That choice certainly defines us in how we look at ourselves, at authority, at wealth and how we use them and act.
Yes, Amen is a powerful word, and an ever-present way to affirm our love and relationship with God and all of his creation. It at the same time is a powerful prayer as God all ready know all our thoughts and desires and asks only that we be honest with ourself and with Him.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year c, 9-11-16 Exodus32:7-14, Ps 51, 1Tim 1:12-17, Luke 15: 1-10
I had my desk piled high with books & commentaries about the Book of Exodus, looking for ideas for today. Then I read today’s opening prayer. Let me read it again: “Let us pray for the peace which is born of faith and hope. Father in heaven, you alone are the source of our peace. Bring us to the dignity which distinguishes the poor in spirit and show us how great is the call to serve, that we may share in the peace of Christ who offered his life in the service of all.”
Well, this week Mother Theresa of Kolkata was canonized as a Saint, and today we have a Day of Remembrance for the attack on September 11th. How much more clearly could the Holy Spirit have urged me to talk today about peace and service?
Moses was God’s servant bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The people all had been born in slavery, as had their parents. It was the only life they had ever experienced. Freedom was new, and difficult. They were accustomed to being dependent, to having decisions made for them. They escaped from Egypt only 3 months before, and now Moses had been up on Mount Sinai for 6 weeks with God; they were afraid he wouldn’t return. They fell back on their experiences from Egypt; they made and worshiped a golden cow, and their behavior became wild & uncontrolled. Worshiping something they made did not bring them peace.
The people still thought of God as being made in their image, like an idol. So God is described as having a human fit of rage. They expect God will destroy them, just as their Egyptian masters would have done. But in the next chapter, Moses presents the 10 commandments to the people, and they promise to do their part of the covenant with God. This is actually the high point of the Old Testament story. The people commit to worshiping only God and God commits to protecting and loving the people. Their worship space is filled with the Ark of the Covenant and they work together the make the space ornate and beautiful. The Glory of God fills the meeting tent & peace returns to the people.
So, I think we can say this: that service is to bring the word of God to one other. And peace comes from God’s word and from trust and obedience to God’s word.
Our Psalm is the confession of King David after he broke God’s law and took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David was God’s servant, making the nation of Israel a strong and great nation, leading the people into a time of peace, ensuring the people were faithful to their covenant with God. But there would be no peace for David until he confessed his sin.
Likewise, our 2nd reading is a confession by St. Paul about murdering Christians prior to his conversion to Christianity. Paul had been a Pharisee, proud & arrogant. He had actively and violently worked to stop the followers of Jesus after the resurrection. But then Jesus appeared to Paul, and asked, “Why do you persecute me?” So Paul became a servant of God, taking the Word of the Risen Christ into the world. He helped form the faith as we know it. His peace came from not from hatred and violence; instead he found peace even as he became the subject of violence and hatred. He was beaten and jailed, all in service of the God he praised and worshiped.
Finally, in our Gospel, Jesus, the ultimate servant of God, tells us two parables of not only peace, but heavenly joy. The Pharisees, like the Israelites led by Moses, wanted God to be in their image. They were angry and disgusted that Jesus didn’t put people in their place – mainly the people who didn’t make a great pretense of being holy, people who didn’t or couldn’t afford to follow all the complex rules the Pharisees helped create to set themselves above other people. So Jesus says, “What if a woman looses a tenth of all her money? Won’t she tear the house apart, frantically looking for it, not stopping until she finds it? And won’t her happiness in finding it be known to everyone? The angels in heaven, Jesus says, are the same way over just a single person who repents of their sin.” Like the woman who found her coin, the repentant one will find peace and joy in finding forgiveness.
The shepherd likewise finds his lost sheep, and rejoices, telling all his neighbors and friends. He finds relief and peace, just as there is joy in heaven over a single sinner who comes to repent and find forgiveness. I always have thought this has a touch of sarcasm from Jesus. Did Jesus suggest that the Pharisees see themselves as the 99 righteous people, when really their pride and their prejudice creates a barrier to the so-called sinners finding peace? But still I hear of churches refusing sacraments to people.
My neighbor has a bumper sticker that reads, “We need a Department of Peace.” Peace, like charity, begins at home. Peace, like service, is a choice. I don’t plan to move to India to pick up the dying off the streets there. I have found enough abused and forgotten people dying in sub-standard nursing homes right here at home. There are enough hungry children at our local Elementary school and enough refugees and immigrants in the housing development within walking distance of this church; there are enough social agencies, church charities and social justice groups crying for volunteers and donations to keep us all busy all day every day.
Every death, every injury, every mourner from 9-11 deserves our prayerful remembrance today. As does every one of the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and adults who still now continue to die from hunger and acts of war and hatred. We know the one source of peace, and we know a life of service to be the Christian life. I suggest to you, as well as to myself, to make our act of remembrance in the coming days by finding new ways to be of service, and new openings to bring peace in our own families, our own neighborhoods. Surely the Holy Spirit whispers in your ears chances to do this service, so let us encourage each other to do it.