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

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

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.

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish September 4, 2016 the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Communion, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 4, 2016

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.

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.

 

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish April, 3, 2016 2nd Sunday of Easter

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on April 3, 2016

No Need to Choose Sides!

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, scripture by Rev. Martha on March 4, 2016

4th Sunday of Lent yr C, 3-6-16 Joshua 5: 9-12, Ps 34, 2 Cor 5: 17-21,  Luke 15: 1-32

 

I was talking with a friend about preaching on “The Prodigal Son.” Her response was, “Ooh, that’s a hard one. Good luck!”  I understood exactly what she was saying.  Then I began to wonder why Jesus even the story.  Every generation and every culture has stories about wayward sons. Every society has rules about inheritances.  But reading this as a wayward son story or inheritance law story just doesn’t give us an adequate interpretation or reveal the purpose of the parable. We need to look closer.

The 15th chapter of Luke consists of three parables, which all lead in the same direction. They are: (1) The Lost Sheep, (2) The Lost Coin, and (3) The Lost (or prodigal) Son.  The Lost Sheep (the guy who leaves the 99 sheep to search for one) ends with this: “I am so happy I found my lost sheep.  Let us celebrate!  I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who do not need to repent.”   Now, how did that happen? How did we go from sheep, to repentance and heaven?

The Lost Coin (you know, the woman who loses her coin, sweeps & searches until she finds it) ends almost exactly the same: “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!  In the same way, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.”  Jesus is definitively not discussing inheritance distribution here.

Both of these first two parables focus instead on searching & the joy of finding. Then they compare that joy of finding with the joy that comes with repentance. The Lost Son focuses on those same themes, but in addition, it contrasts of the attitude of the father with the elder son’s attitude; contrasting compassion toward repentant sinners and refusal to celebrate repentance.

Now, the original audience listening to these parables included both the “sinners” that Jesus associated with – and ate with – as well as religious leaders who objected – strongly – to the presence of those “sinners.  In fact, this may have been the “Hot Button” issue that ignited the plot to crucify Jesus.

But to find the birthplace of this parable, we must return to Luke 4: 18-22, which we read on Jan 31st.   Remember Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue: “(The Lord) has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty…recovery of sight…freedom for the oppressed and announce the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” It’s Jesus’ mission statement.   It’s the announcement of the coming of the Messiah.  It was widely believed then that the Messiah, or Christ, would bring a time of forgiveness, restoration, and insistence on joyous celebration.

To grumble in the face of his coming is to not understand what is happening. Jesus puts these parables in the context of why he is there, his purpose. It is a picture of the impact of his ministry, the coming of God’s kingdom….and the attitudes of those who find the Kingdom – those who repent, forgive, and who are forgiven.

“The Coming of the Kingdom” is a phrase we read in the Gospels, but it’s hard to be really sure what to do with it. The conflict which brought about this parable was the claim from Jesus that the kingdom of God was present and that God was at work.  That’s fine and dandy when you sit in a church and feel safe among those of like mind.  But it was met with great suspicion as long as those around Jesus were tax collectors who worked for and collaborated with the Romans (those oppressive invaders, those multi-god-worshiping heathens); AND those ceremonially unclean shepherds and lepers and disabled people that were so feared and despised; AND others who were absolutely disreputable and debase, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet.

So, here is a contrast between the acceptance of the repentant by God and the suspicion and rejection of them by some religious leaders. But, Surprise!  The parable ends without rejecting either side.  How can it be that the father would desire a household that would offer love to the son who put every cent of  his effort & time into the estate, alongside the son who is an obvious drain on the bank account and the emotions of everyone?  Yet, the father of the sons rejects no one; both sons are chosen.  The father loves and offers everything he has to the grumbling son with a disrespectful attitude as well as the son who has broken every rule in the book and come home at best only hoping not to die of starvation.  Could I be so open and loving and generous on the very best day of my life??  In my own self, it would be impossible.  Only if I was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit of God could that happen.

You see, the kingdom does not divide but unifies; the kingdom is universal. This parable is without an ending, and so becomes an invitation to everyone who hears it to change their attitude and join in the celebration.   The Messiah has come, forgiveness, restoration, liberty- all our inheritance.  Our heavenly Father has given us all he has, and He is always with us.  We are no longer slaves of darkness or ourselves.  If we had a sliver of a clue what was happening, if we saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, it would be enough to make us rejoice until tears of unrestrained happiness streamed down our cheeks.  What is now “ours” could be shared with the hungry, the dirty, the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner, the addict, the derelict.  The hard years, the labor which seemed to be without reward could be remembered with gladness. Perhaps that is why we were given the Holy Spirit and Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Second Chances

Posted in Called, christian, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Rev. Martha on February 27, 2016

Homily 2-28-16 3rd Sunday Lent year C Ex 3:1-15, Ps 103,1Cor 10:1-12, Luke 13 1-9

The action generally starts on Sunday with the Gospel, but today we have a sort of “pre-game show” in Exodus. All too often Moses gets billed as the “Giver of the Law”, a title which seriously underestimates him as a major player.  We have to go back to his amateur days for some background.

Moses was the Hebrew baby set afloat in a basket in the reeds on the edge of the Nile River.  Pharaoh had decreed that all Hebrew boy babies must be killed, fearing that the Hebrews (the Israelites) would join with an enemy to attack Egypt.  We would say, “This Pharaoh was a wall-guy, not a bridge builder.”

Baby Moses was indeed saved, and adopted as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Fast forward about 30-40 years.  One day he was visiting the Hebrews and saw an Egyptian “striking”, or depending on how you translate it, “killing” a Hebrew man.  His motives are not entirely clear, but Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.  But Pharaoh got word of it, and Moses had to flee to the land of Midian, west of Egypt, across the Red Sea.   There he married the daughter of Jethro, and settled down, tending the flocks of his father-in law.  He led the flock to Mount Sinai.  There he saw that “burning bush” and the world changed.

You know the story. God pulled no punches with him.  God said,” I know of the suffering of my people in Egypt.  I have come to rescue them. I will give them a spacious land, fertile and rich in resources.  I will send you to Pharaoh to lead them out of Egypt.”

Don’t think for a minute that Moses said, “Oh goody!!” For a guy who described himself as slow of speech, he was quick to point out 4 reasons why he wasn’t the man for the job. “Who am I that I should go?” he modestly asks, meaning he just isn’t qualified for leadership.  God simply responds, “I will be with you”.

Then Moses insists that the people don’t know God, and will not believe it. He says, “They will ask, ‘What is the name of this God of our fathers’; what shall I tell them?”  He’s trying to say, “Uh, God, it’s not like you and I are on a first name basis.  I’m not so sure I believe this either.”   But God responds,   “I am who I am.   Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM sent you.’”  I’m not sure that satisfied Moses, but it’s given theologians something to struggle with for hundreds of years.  Perhaps the cleverness of it is that it is un-translatable.

But even that doesn’t stop Moses; he continues to object. “Suppose the elders won’t listen to me.  Even if I convince the people, the leaders won’t buy it.”  Now God gives Moses the power to turn his staff into a snake, make his hand appear white with leprosy, and turn river water into blood.  God is pressing him hard to take on this job.

Finally, Moses says, “I am not eloquent; I am slow of speech.” God has heard enough excuses; it’s time to act.  He reminds Moses that he gives the power of speech.   So Moses went to Egypt, the Israelites believed him, and the people of God were freed from slavery.

Do you find it amazing that God would use a murderer and fugitive, a doubter, someone who stinks of sheep, a man who makes excuses to God, and one who lacks the verbal skills and charisma to lead people? I was an employment counselor for 13 years; I took great care to match people well to jobs.  But God?  God sees things in people we don’t see, and God provides all that is lacking.  God is a God who takes us, with all our faults, our failures, our lacking, our negativity, our hesitancy, our violence and our ignorance – and loves us and offers us forgiveness and 2nd chances.  In this season of Lent, we are called to the Great I Am, as the old time preachers would sing, “Just as I am.”

So now to the Gospel, where Jesus is talking about the news of the day with the people. They want Jesus to tell them that people have been killed by Pilate because they were sinful, and workers were killed when a tower fell because they were guilty.  The people feel safer if guilt is assigned to “them”.  But Jesus says those who are dead are NOT guiltier than anyone else and then he turns it back to those pointing the finger of blame, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”  Then he tells them a parable about a fig tree which produces no figs.  The owner says, “Cut it down; it’s a waste of time and dirt!”  But the gardener begs for one short year to make it productive.

We don’t have to look too far to see this is another instance of 2nd chances, and God is again urgently pressing us to act.  Jesus’ message of repentance is directed to all, not just a select few, and Luke is clear that fruit – aka visible change of behavior – is expected.  We must develop a sense that our actions really are significant and we are responsible for feeding others in both a concrete and symbolic sense.  We, as individuals and as The Church, should be the very symbol of divine plenty, and not be fruitless in our faith.

St. Paul in our 2nd reading reminds us of the history of Israel, and the tragedies of God’s people who desired evil things, who grumbled, who became self-righteous, and who serve as a warning for us. Jesus’ call to us, in all generations, is on the edge between mercy and judgment; and judgment is never canceled but merely postponed.  This short delay is the time for repentance, reorganization of our thought processes, new awareness, new behavior, change, and action – life lived out loud in obedience to the will of God.