CACINA

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent (April 8, 2017)

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

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent (April 7, 2017)

Inclusive Text- Readings- Jeremiah 20: 10-13 / Psalm 18: 2-3ABC, 4-7 / John 10: 31-42

Friends, who is it in our lives that we are trying to impress? Our Creator knows who we are; we do not have to impress God.  God loves us just the way we are but somehow we keep missing that message. But why is it so important for us to impress another human being? Well, if we haven’t noticed by now, people do eventually see through us. This quote says it very well, “Loving yourself is a radical stance in a culture that constantly promotes ways to ‘improve’ yourself, whether through beauty aids or plastic surgery or hair implants or new devices. It takes a great deal of courage to love oneself fully. It takes a wild and passionate heart to look the critical world in the eye and say, ‘I love myself.'”Christine Valters Paintner, PhD
Jesus came to tell the truth of the Creator, what truth are we trying to tell? Who are we really fooling? If the truth, we are so adamant in trying to portray, is what we wish to convey to people, they will see us for who we really are.  We don’t have to prove it, just be ourselves. Some will see us for who we are and others will not.  It is not our job to convince them, it is our job to be the Face of God in all we do
Jesus remained truthful, faithful not only to himself, but to the Father.  Jesus said we can do everything he did and more.  Are we ready for that challenge? 
rev. Michael Theogene

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent (April 6, 2017)

Inclusive Text- Readings- Genesis 17: 3-9 / Psalm 105: 4-9 / John 8: 51-59
Sisters and brothers, do we know God? Do we know Jesus? Do we know ourselves? How well do we know ourselves? Friends, I believe that as we journey in this life trying to know ourselves, in some small part we can learn about ourselves through our interactions with others. Whether good or bad, people are placed in our paths for one reason or another. Sometimes we learn from them and at other times they learn from us. Why were they there in the first place? Not a coincidence, a God incidence.
If we have found it hard at times to be free from persons in our present or past lives, I think we need to ask ourselves, who is it that is placed in our life that we must learn from? Who is it that I have allowed to help me shine or whom have I allowed to smother the light within me. What must we learn?
The people placed in our paths will always remind us of the positive or negative lessons in our lives. The question is my friends, what is it that we can carry further along with us on the journey and what is it that we are afraid to take and what must we leave behind?  
rev. Michael Theogene

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent (April 5, 2017)

Inclusive Text- Readings- Daniel 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95 / Psalm: Daniel 3: 52-56 / John 8: 31-42

Friends, as I mentioned yesterday, remember at one time or another when you may not have felt welcomed. I am sure it has happened to us at one time or another. At the risk of sounding prideful, I have always felt that I can get along with anyone. However, there have been times when I was not welcomed, perhaps because of my friendliness. No matter what I thought of my actions in those moments, it was important not to take it personal and be aware of my lack of sensitivity to others needs in those situations, not my feeling of being unwelcome.

It reminds me of when two people are dating and it seems good and one party decided to break up the relationship, and states, ‘it’s not you, you are great, it’s me.’ Right away we blame ourselves for the breakup but in reality we are being called to live up to the real love of God in our lives and not blame ourselves or others and accept change.

rev. Michael Theogene

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent (April 4, 2017)

Inclusive Text Readings- Numbers 21: 4-9 / Psalm 102: 2-3, 16-21 / John 8: 21-30

Not with standing all of our faults, sisters and brothers, have you ever felt that you did not belong? Perhaps at some point in your job or among family, you may have felt that you did not belong. Sisters and brothers, when we lift up Jesus, the Son of Humanity, then and only then will we realize it is Jesus who serves at our feet. Jesus was able to accomplish this only with the help of the Father. Jesus’ willing sacrifice to suffer for all of humanity is the gift lasting forever. This gift freely given should never be taken lightly. Jesus knew who he was and whose he was. Do we see ourselves as Jesus saw himself? Do we see ourselves in the same manner as Jesus saw himself with God as part of creation? My only wish for myself is that I hope that I am living and walking as Jesus did. By being a testimony of the life and resurrection of the beauty of creation and our place in it. I hope I am living fully the gifts I have been given. For what is given freely, I give back freely to creation as best as I can to all I encounter. Are we the face of God? Are we paying it forward?

rev. Michael Theogene

Reflection for Friday of the Third Week of Lent (March 24, 2017)

Inclusive Text- Readings- Hosea 14: 2-10 / Psalm 81: 6C-8ABC, 9-11AB, 14 & 17 / Mark 12: 28-34

Sisters and brothers, I don’t know about you but I find it very difficult at times to follow one of the instructions of St. Benedict. St. Benedict says, “Welcome all as if they were the Christ”. (Paraphrased) Without sounding as if I am bragging, I could honestly say that I would give the shirt on my back to anybody. I am sure, as we all have in one way or another done this. However, there are the times when I have said those words but have not carried them out. Our actions always speak louder than words. I have learned from my own experience and from what others have mentioned to me, that it is not so much what people say that has an effect on me but by who they are and how they live that really speaks volumes?

rev. Michael Theogene

Reflection for Thursday of the Third Week of Lent (March 23, 2017) Cycle A

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

Reflection for Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent (March 22, 2017)

Inclusive Text- Reading- Deuteronomy 4: 1, 5-9 / Psalm 147: 12-13, 15-16, 19-20 / Matthew 5: 17-19

Friends, we have a responsibility, no in fact it is our duty and obligation to ensure that we do not fool ourselves when trying to be honest with others. Let us not fool ourselves when it comes to specific care and instruction of those who are placed in our paths. I think we need to be careful, knowing our own boundaries, when interacting with others. Yes, love is a risk, relationships are a risk, and yes, unfortunately love leaves a scare.

We know what we have seen and heard. We believe and yet I find that at times I don’t need to defend God. God is more than capable in defending God’s self. If we stay and remain faithful to the conversation, than more is revealed as we journey further in the conversation. It is the same with others. Look at the times when you might have been so influenced by someone and how you reacted. Look at the times when you might have influenced someone, were we careful with that person? Did we provide adequate care and instruction? If in a position of authority, did I  abuse my position over a subordinate at work or in church?

We sometimes can be so easily influenced by others as well as us impacting others. Through personal counseling or spiritual direction, let us always take the opportunity to take a step back, reexamine the situation and become mindful of how we can hurt others in our lives hopefully before it’s too late.

rev. Michael Theogene

Reflection for Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent (March 21, 2017)

Inclusive Text- Readings – Daniel 3: 25, 34-43 / Psalm 25:4-5AB, 6 and 7BC, 8-9 / Matthew 18: 21-35

We hear over and over again of how often we should forgive. So, how often should we forgive? It’s always easier said than done, isn’t it? Just as we hear of the various stages of grief so it is the same with forgiveness. I believe there are stages of forgiveness. It may not always be so easy to forgive. At times we may come out of ourselves and forgive the simple wrongs done to us by others, but how about those big hurts? The big hurts, the ones that may require a little more time to process and discern.

We may have been hurt by a parent, a loved one, and close friend, an ex-spouse, ex-boyfriend / girlfriend, co-worker, a work supervisor or by whoever, who hurt me? Who hurt us?

It is in that same like manner that when we come to that time of forgiveness, as with grieving, it has no time table. It can take that instantaneous moment or it may need to take a day or two or perhaps it can take years. The bottom line is that not to take too much of the time you think you might need. We may not have enough as at times, especially with those big hurts, as we continue to let fester in our minds and souls focusing on the traumatic hurt, preventing us from living, from moving on.

There are many books out there on how to forgive and they say many good things.  Friends, when we forgive it might be for the moment when we know what the right thing to do is. We might remember from time to time the reminder of the big hurt that comes to mind, but like anything else, it’s our job to embrace it, sit with it for a brief moment and then move on as best as we can.

The idea as Jesus reminds us so often, as he continues to do so today, is to forgive because God forgives us. When we don’t forgive in its many forms whatever the situation is or may have been, then it is us to think and act like God as if we were God ourselves not allowing the overflowing pains of forgiveness which will lead to joy in some way.

I am always amazed by the many stories of forgiveness that have arisen in our world. Sister Camille D’Arienzo, a Religious Sister of Mercy in Brooklyn, NY, has done a great deal of work on forgiveness. From families forgiving individuals who hurt loved ones through violent crimes to the process of coming to some forgiveness of the innocents taken away from love ones by priests who were to shepherd the flock and not attack the flock as ravenous wolves.

Yeah, forgiveness can be tough at times, from the minor to the major. Who is it that I need to forgive that I have found difficult to forgive? Am I worried so much about being right? Does it really matter? What steps am I going to take in order to begin the steps toward healing?

rev. Michael Theogene

What are you preaching? Peace or Profit?

Posted in christian, Faith, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on October 8, 2016

28th Sunday ordinary time 10-9-16 yr C 2 Kings 5:14-17, Psalm: 98:1-4,  2 Timothy 2:8-13, Luke 17:11-19 

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.

Peace and Service- What Do You Choose?

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.

Dinner and Roses

Posted in christian, Christianity, ethics, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture by Rev. Martha on August 27, 2016

22nd week ordinary time yr c 8-28-16 Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29,   Ps 68:4-11, Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a Luke 14:1, 7-14

I once knew a nursing home resident who was blind and deaf. I saw her week after week, alone in her bed. I heard the aides yelling at her, as if yelling could make her hear – as if she was deliberately ignoring them. Her roommate took me down to the end of the hall, where no one was around us, and, with her hand covering her mouth, whispered in my ear, “I think she is being abused.” She would say no more.

I began to think of ways to reach out to this elderly woman. My heart broke when I read a Birthday card pinned to her bulletin board in her room. It was from her sister, who wrote, “I would come to visit you if only you knew who I was.”

Perhaps I had seen the movie about Helen Keller too many times, but I thought something could be done. One bright spot in an otherwise hopeless scene was that, since she lost her hearing late in life, she could still speak. I went to the Dollar Store, the starting place for many of my schemes, and bought some artificial roses. I had some rose-scented oil, given to me by another priest. I doused a single rose with oil, and went to the nursing home.

I began by touching her hand gently. Then I put the rose stem in her hand, and gently moved the rose toward her nose. She began to pull away, but then she caught the scent of the rose. She drew the rose in toward her nose, and took a long breath. She spoke, “I don’t know what it is, but it smells wonderful.” My heart did a little dance of joy. We had made contact. I made the sign of the cross in her palm and left her with her rose.

It was the best time we ever had together. Most of the subsequent visits were taken up by trying to get the staff to give her something to drink. Sometimes she would throw, with some pretty good power, whatever she could get hold of. Often the floor was covered with food or coffee she had thrown. One day when I touched her hand in greeting, she said, “I’m having a bad day.” Her actions fit with the roommate’s suspicions – she acted like she was trying to defend herself. I complained relentlessly that she was not given fresh water to drink, since her Styrofoam cup was dated up to two days old. The staff simply stopped dating the cup. Then I was barred from the nursing home for filing complaints with the state, the county, and the nursing home corporate office for other abuse and neglect I saw in the same “nursing home” – where it seemed very little nursing was done, and was certainly nothing like home.

Who are the roses in our culture? That’s easy. They are the movie stars, the recording artists, and singers like “Madonna”. They are the Olympic gold metal winners, the football players, baseball players who hit home runs or pitch no-hitters. They are the rising corporate millionaires, the faces identified with big-selling brands.   They are the roses that we like to see, we want to meet, get their autograph. We stop and read the magazine that has their face on the cover. They are young and healthy, talented and attractive.

As for the sick, the elderly, the ugly, those visibly physically and mentally wounded, and those who are unable to compete in this economy, we give them Food Stamps – if they can fight their way through the application process – and a disability check which is only about a third of a entry-level employee’s wages – if they can live on air long enough to appeal the denial of their case once or twice.   Oh yes, we tolerate them, maybe give them some occasional attention or a donation.

And what happens to them in return? Well, those we call “marginalized” are robbed of their sense of worth. They are aware they are a burden on society. One man, victim of a terrible auto wreck caused by a young woman who came down a ramp at a high rate of speed, told me he was like a “dog that should be taken out and shot.” He repeatedly told the nursing home staff not to bother to bathe him or help him get dressed when they were “short-handed”, which happened frequently. He said he was a burden to his family. He required a special wheel chair. He was able to buy a used wheel chair with the small settlement he got from the accident, and when it was worn out and un-repairable, he was told getting another chair for him was “too expensive”. He was left in bed for nearly a year, to develop deep bed sores which threatened his life. I found an attorney who convinced the nursing home to finally get him a wheel chair, but the aides only got him up when “they had time.” He was left without eyeglasses for a year. Ironically, he was an excellent dispatcher, and I am convinced that he could have worked if our society had opened those doors for him and others like him.

And what happens to us? We are deprived of depth of character, of insight and genuine understanding of the value of life and what beauty really is. We become shallow, selfish people who are accustomed to blaming people for the violence done against them. We become blind to what is happening. It is as if our artists paint bouquets that have been pruned of any flower that is faded, bent by wind or rain, or has uneven petals. We become unconnected to one another, and deny the realty that we are all dependent on each other, all one body, those who can pretend to be perfect and remainder of the rest who are – well, human.

Jesus said, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”   In Jesus’ day, you would have been dropped from the “A list” for doing that – it was social suicide to eat with those below your social standing.   No one would invite you to another dinner, and no one would attend your dinners. It doesn’t take much effort to be humble, when other people are so willing and able to humiliate you. Jesus asked a great deal of us. Jesus was not content with the social structure of the day – and I have no reason to believe we have made giant steps forward. Often, I can only tolerate 20 minutes of the BBC evening newscast before I am in tears.

One last thought – how would God see me? Would I be a rose to God? There is very little perfect about me. My face will never shine from the cover of “Time” magazine. I don’t get many dinner invitations, and I don’t sit at the head of the table. But yet I know that I am valuable and loved by my creator, and one day I will be at the heavenly banquet, where every seat is the best one. There are things too sublime for me, things beyond my strength; but just to be there will be enough.

The Parable of the Midnight Bread Run

Posted in christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on July 24, 2016

17th Sunday ordinary time, 7-24-16, Genesis 18:20-32,Ps 138, Col. 2:12-14, Luke 11:1-13

Did you think at first this week’s Gospel and Old Testament readings didn’t seem related? Me too.  However, 3 questions emerged from the similarities I did find.  Let me tell you what they are and how I found them.

Abraham was sitting in the shade of a tree at the opening of his tent. To his surprise, 3 men appeared to be walked out of the shimmer of the burning hot desert toward his tent.  He jumped up and ran to them, offering food and drink.  His behavior was not bizarre – it was the “ordinary” and expected gift of hospitality.  In the desert, travelers could not just go down the street to the next hotel.  Hospitality was life and death in the desert, and every nomad like Abraham knew all too well that the next man to depend on this desert hospitality could be him.  People were dependent on each other, and they knew it.

But one of the men blessed Abraham and Sarah with the prophecy that within a year, they would have the son they had longed for all their lives.  This was not “ordinary.” Then the men prepared to leave for the city of Sodom, and we are told one of them is God. God and Abraham are “tight” – they have a covenant and a relationship.  God sends the other 2 ahead and lingers to confide in Abraham about the Sodom and Gomorrah problem.  God is on his way to find out if the complaints he hears about the evil in those cities is as bad as people say.   This is a much earlier understanding of God than we read in the New Testament, yet God is, even then, listening- and responding- to prayers. Hold on to that thought for a moment.

Abraham is determined to find out if God values life. This is the first question I found -we would phrase it, “Do all lives matter to God?” The culture of that day concerned communities.  A community of at least 12 men was the focal point; that’s what mattered.  Abraham means to know if God cares about individuals. The answer is clearly yes, God does number each of us, for God will save the entire city for not 12, but even 10 innocent people.  In the end, God finds just 4 innocent people- who are given safety.

What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that they should be destroyed?  This has been discussed for centuries.   Ezekiel 16 said it was their disregard for the poor, pride in their prosperity, and their complacency.  Isaiah 1 says their faith was empty, and their hands were bloody from injustices.  Jeremiah 23 lists adultery, living in lies, siding with the wicked, and provoking others to evil. Genesis 19 lists:  random, uncontrolled violence and lack of that important hospitality.  When the two messengers God sent entered the city, Lot offered them food, lodging, and safety for the night.  Then a violent mob gathered & Lot was so appalled that the city residents would attack them that he offered his daughters to the rioters in place of the two men.   Imagine putting your own children in danger to protect two strangers- but the point the enormous responsibility of protecting travelers– and how seriously out of control the cities were. The city people call Lot “an immigrant”, using the word like an ethnic slur, and threaten him with violence, too.  My 2nd question is then: “What attitude should we have toward travelers, strangers, refugees, and immigrants?”   2 weeks ago we touched on this question with the Good Samaritan story.  But generosity and compassion for immigrants and refugees has always been the expectation of God’s people.

There can be little doubt that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had totally severed any relationship to God, and had lost any sense of justice, hospitality or respect. And here is the place we can move to the Gospel reading, even though the contrast with Sodom and Gomorrah is so deliberately striking that the two seem incongruent.  But Jesus tells this remarkable and often misunderstood parable of the man who needs bread to feed a traveler who has arrived from his journey late at night.

So we know about the hospitality thing. But something else is going on here.  First, Jesus asks literally, “Who from You” (which of you) has a friend to whom you go at midnight and say to him, ‘lend me 3 loaves’…and the answer would be,  ‘Don’t bother me, I am not able to get up and give you anything.’” Do you have a friend who would say that?  11 times a question is posed in the Gospels starting with “Who from you” and every time the answer is “No!” The whole point is that no one would refuse to get up and give his friend what he needs.  It is unthinkable, unimaginable, an easy conclusion based on everyday life.   For sure, the poor sleeping man will hand over the bread.  Now look at this parable again.  Does it mention any knocking at the door or repetition of the request?  No.  There is nothing to suggest this is a lesson in persistence.  Not that persistence is bad, it’s just not in this parable.  We have a problem. The Greek word here translated in some recent Bibles as “persistence” is “anaideia” is correctly translated “shamelessness or bad manners, rudeness”.  There are no recorded uses historically of this word in any other meaning.  Jesus is using the contrast to make a point about prayer and our relationship to our Abba/ Father.  God is not like the sleeping man, who needs rudeness and social convention to produce what you want.

This is a “how much more” parable. In other words, if a man will get up in the middle of the night to answer a request that is rude, how much more will God answer your requests?  Matthew in 6: 27 (which starts with “who from you”)has the same thing when he says if God cares about the birds and flowers, how much more will God care about you?  This is the same God who listened and responded to Abraham’s prayer for a son and the outcry over the evil in Sodom & Gomorrah.  God has a long & impressive resume in handling prayers. In this parable, Jesus is giving us assurance – certainty!- that God hears our prayers and responds… to the point of giving his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit to help us.  This parable and the verses which follow affirm the importance of prayer and is an invitation to pray.  Come to God with your worries, cares, needs – it’s not a waste of time.

So here is my 3rd question:  Can you tell the difference between people with a prayerful, dependent relationship with God, and people who have severed all relationship with God and depend on their own power?  I think our readings answer that pretty clearly. To put it another way, what is the defining difference between a violent, out of control mob with no concern for those in need; and people who share their dependence and needs with each other, and who embrace the hungry and the outsider?  It would seem that a prayerful relationship with God is the difference here.  It would seem that kind of dependence on God completes us as beings made in God’s image.

 

Keep on Going, Keep on Doing

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Word by Rev. Martha on July 10, 2016

15th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-10-16  HT  Deut 30: 10-14, Ps 19, Col 1: 15-20, Luke 10: 25-37

We have to start today back in the Old Testament, specifically in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Deut 6: 4-9 is part of the Shema, one of the most fundamental prayers of the Jewish faith.  Verse 5 says: “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  Jesus may have heard this on the day of his birth, as it was traditionally said twice each day.

That verse was linked- long before Jesus’ time – with Leviticus 19:15-18. Verse 18 says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Scripture scholars saw these two verses drawn together like magnets, because they used the same Hebrew verb form for the command to love:  we’ahabeta, which is used only 1 other place in the OT.  Any disagreement between Jesus and the lawyer was only over the application and the boundaries of these commands, not the significance of the command to love God and neighbor.  So many difficulties arise not with ideas and ideals, but with making them become reality!

So, Jesus had a history of association with the “wrong people” – remember the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. He touched and healed the “unclean” – lepers, the bleeding woman, and the widow’s dead son.   He ate without the hand wash ritual, he allowed his hungry disciples to pick wheat on the Sabbath.  If the lawyer had any plan to trap Jesus into teaching contrary to the religious Laws, Jesus was prepared, skillfully redirecting the discussion to the intent of the law.  The discussion starts with that curious dance of questions that began any formal Jewish scholarly debate on the Law – but ends with “Go and do likewise”.  It was no longer a debate but a call to action.

Two weeks ago, in the previous chapter of Luke, we read about the disciples wanting to call down fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village which would not welcome them. The breach between the Jews and Samaritans was of long standing and firmly entrenched.  There was a constant attempt to insult and demean each other. The disciples got a swift rebuke, not fire, for Jesus was very tolerant of being turned away.  Again, when Jesus encountered the Samaritan “Woman at the Well”, it was a time of forgiveness and healing.

But this is not a lesson about the Samaritans.   Neither is it an attempt to criticize the priests.   This is a parable, not a diatribe of negativity; it is teaching to a specific point.  The Samaritan is cast as the stereotypical “bad, stupid guy” who is –undisputedly -doing the right thing – in contrast to the stereotypical “good and smart guys” who clearly are not doing what God requires.  The startling contrast gets our attention.

Where is the pivotal point in this parable? The priest sees, and passes by.  The Levite, a Temple assistant, sees, and passes by.  The Samaritan sees, and was moved with compassion at the sight.  Compassion: the deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another, together with the inclination to give aid or support, or to show mercy.  I looked it up – and found on the next page of the dictionary the word “compel” – to necessitate or pressure.  I think Jesus is saying that the Love which God wires into us makes us feel the need to be compassionate.  Sharing the suffering of each other is a necessary part of living.  Paraphrasing the words of our first reading today, “(Compassion)….is something very near to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts; we only have to carry it out.  For it’s not too mysterious and remote for us.  It’s not up in the sky, nor across the sea.”

Simply asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” assumes there are limits on compassion. Jesus, of course, does not teach a boundary, a limit, on love, and will not permit us to say, “We have loved enough”, nor choose who we will love.  In mathematical terms, nearness + need = neighbor; love creates neighborliness.  To love God with all of one’s being and loving neighbor as self is living out our relationship with God.

One writer called this parable “a little annoying, for it will not let us look away or excuse us from being compassionate”. Some people are put off by the insinuation that we must exhaust ourselves and our resources over every possible instance of need that we hear of.  If you leave these doors today resolved to help everyone, your wallet will be empty and you will be disgruntled and discouraged by the time you reach home. But, the point of the parable is to identify what Christian character is, not prescribe particular action. And we don’t need to always love our neighbors by ourselves.  Community efforts are generally more effective and longer lasting.  We sometimes respond better to needs when we are challenged as a group.

Still, knowing how to implement this parable is not that easy.  So, my message is not “Go and do likewise”, but “Keep going, and keep doing” the outstanding outreach to your community that you’ve already established.  This church has found neighbors at an Elementary school close at hand.  You have been the wise people who brought gifts to area families at Christmas through the Jessie Tree project.  You were the ones who responded to a call for laundry essentials at the nearby housing units last December.  And I believe I heard a resounding “YES! They Heard Me!” from the heavens.

 

Already Forgiven!!

Posted in christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on June 10, 2016

11th Sunday Homily, 6-12-16  year C, 2nd Samuel 12:1-13, Galatians 2: 16-21, Luke 7: 36-50

Our 1st reading is one of the few readings in the Sunday lectionary from King David’s life, and it’s sad that we read about one of his worst moments.  Adultery & murder are taboo in most cultures because they tear the very fabric of community life.  David knowingly and purposefully sinned.  Nathan told him a parable which made him face what he did. David used his wiles, his wealth, his power, and his position to sin.  How could God forgive him?

But there is a clear message of God’s grace and mercy. Psalm 51 is David’s confession. “A clean heart create for me, God; do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit. Restore my joy in your salvation.”  So, what is the message Nathan brings?  “The Lord has forgiven your sin.”   That is the message of the story.  That is the take-away.  That is the point.  No matter how far he had fallen – even the mighty King David – or the darkness of the sin, God had announced his forgiveness to Nathan before David had even been confronted.  There are, however, repercussions from David’s actions – not punishment from God, but natural consequences; that’s an important distinction.

Then we hear Paul’s take on how we move from sin to grace. “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me,” Paul writes to the Galatians.  Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  We rejoice because of what God has done.” Let me paraphrase.  ”I live in the present”, he says.  ”But my sin, even before it happened, died with Jesus when he was crucified.  I have faith in and believe this in the very core of my being:  that Jesus loved me when I was at my worst, and that he was willing to die a shameful dead, a torturous death at the hands of people just like me, people who did the same sinful things I do.  All of this Jesus did before I ever came to believe.  Jesus’ actions and God’s forgiveness preceded my understanding of and my confession of my sins.”

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so Luke provides the picture. So often we find the original story in the Old Testament, like David and Nathan, and then Jesus comes along and takes that same story line, and lives it out, showing us God’s ways. See, without Jesus, we are inclined to think God is like us, and we want to create a god in our image.  We want revenge, we want others to stoop and gravel before us.  We want to hear, “Oh please, I beg you to forgive me!!”  So we assume, from our expectations, that we must cajole or coax or wheedle or shame God into forgiving us, you know, lean on him a little.  But is that really how God is??

To answer that question, Jesus, like Nathan, presents a compelling parable about forgiveness – in this case the forgiveness of debt, a concrete subject that wealthy Simon the Pharisee can relate to…just as David, once a shepherd, understood sheep story.

Here it is: Two men are in serious debt. One owes 50 days wages, which would take years to repay.  The other owes 500 days wages –hopeless, impossible to repay.   The vineyards that have been in his family for 100’s of years will be sold off, the wife and kids will be sold into slavery. But the creditor forgives both of them.  Which man will be really delighted, but which one will be ecstatic, jumping, screaming with joy, sobbing with love and thanksgiving?  Obvious.  Simon’s response sounds hesitant to me, and I suspect he hears a rebuke coming, for Simon the Pharisee is well aware that he has not extended the appropriate hospitality to Jesus.  Simon would have seen to it that anyone of his own social status would have been greeted with water to wash his feet, would have been given a firm kiss, and his hair would have been anointed with soothing perfumed oil.  But Simon had done none of these things for Jesus.  Jesus has been treated like the entertainment, and quite possible the amusement, for the other guests.

Meanwhile, Jesus had allowed this woman’s administrations, which are far beyond social norms. She sobbed over him, to the point of washing his feet with her copious tears, wiping them with her hair, which no proper woman would loosen and display in public, kissing and anointing his feet with ointment.  The boldness of this woman was undoubtedly caused by her understanding of who Jesus was, and the undeniable need to seize this chance to express her overwhelming gratitude.  Simon judges Jesus as ignorant of what he thinks is the impropriety of her behavior; Simon judges her to be of low morals and sinful.

But suddenly Jesus turns the tables. Simon is called out on his rude behavior, and the woman is praised: “Her many sins have been forgiven; therefore she has shown great love.”  The Greek structure of that sentence becomes ambiguous when translated to English.  Some might find it confusing and think her show of love has lead to her forgiveness.  Not so; think back to Jesus’ parable.  Did the debtors display any great virtue or faith?  No!  It was the creditor who forgave the debt, and the love and joy were a reaction to the forgiveness of the debt. And Jesus, to seal the deal so to speak, announces, “Your sins are forgiven”, and causes the other guests to stop and reconsider the whole situation.

So what are we left with here? Can it be that God initiates forgiveness?  Can it be that God has already forgiven us our sins, even before we acknowledge them?  Is it possible that we waste enormous parts of our lives avoiding facing our darkness and shutting our eyes and ears to reconciliation with God and neighbors?  Do we miss the chance to feel and express our joy; do we shut down and remain static instead?  Maybe the part of the darkness in this world that is ours just seems too large to fix or beyond our control, so we rationalize it as too big for God to fix.  How would our lives change if we forgave everyone of everything right away instead waited for them to confess guilt?  What if Christians really were known for their love and forgiveness?  Perhaps in the answers to these questions is the hope our churches and community and nations seek.

 

June 10, 2016 Homily at Holy Trinity Parish for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time