CACINA

To Hear God’s Voice

Posted in Called, christian, Communion, ethics, Eucharist, Faith, homily, inspirational, Psalm 95, scripture, Spirit, Uncategorized by Rev. Martha on January 27, 2018

4th Sunday Ordinary Time

Deut 18:15-20; Psalm: 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

Our 1st reading today starts with a reminder of when Moses brought down the 10 commandments from the mountain (Exodus 20: 10).  There was thunder and lightening.  The earth trembled, the clouds were thick, and there was a sound like trumpets blasting.  It was scary; the people were afraid.  They believed that they could die from getting too close to God.  They never again wanted to hear the voice of God.

We believe God loves us, “and we long to see his face.” But have you ever wondered why God does not speak to us directly?  Have you ever said, “I wish God would just tell me the answer to my problems”? We complain that God does not communicate with us clearly, making it hard to know the right thing to do.

In Moses day, there was an answer to the problem – people were called to be “prophets”. A prophet does not foretell the future; a prophet just relates a message clearly and accurately from God to a person or a group of people.  Of course, that was no guarantee that anyone would do what the prophet said.  The Old Testament is filled with the stories of people who found God’s message too difficult, or found the advice of other people more appealing, which always lead to humiliations and hardships.

Our Psalm mentions one of the occasions when this happened. While traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land, God gave Moses and the Israelites manna and quail to eat.  But when they camped at a place which had no water, the people quarreled and rebelled against Moses’ leadership.  They still failed to trust when Moses told them that God would provide for them, even after they had eaten the manna and seen God’s strength lead them out of slavery in Egypt!  They rebelled against both God’s message and the prophet who brought the message.  That is why the place was named Massah (quarrel) and Meribah (rebel).  Once again, their fear had stopped them from hearing God.  The Psalm is a prayer that we might to be able to hear God without a messenger.

Finally, our reading from Mark follows immediately after Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing to follow him. It is the first time Jesus teaches in a local synagogue and does a healing miracle.  They know Jesus only as the son of Joseph, a carpenter.  The amazement of the people is somewhat skeptical.  How is Jesus able to speak and teach with more understanding and knowledge than even the scribes, who are educated, who read and write with ease?  Why is Jesus so sure of himself and teaches as one with vast experience and understanding? He is like a prophet who confidently announces words which come from God, and heals, too!

The unclean spirit in the man recognizes Jesus’ authority. The spirit cries out, literally shrieks in fear of Jesus, as Moses’ people had feared God.  The spirit is unable to disobey and leaves the man. The people debate among themselves, trying to understand what they have witnessed.  But they cannot deny what they have seen, and the news spreads rapidly.  The fame of Jesus builds as the people recognize, even if they do not name the source of it, his authority and his power.

If only Mark had recorded the teaching! We do not know what he said, only the stunning impact he created on the people.  It is hard not to wish we had been there to experience what amazed the people so. We also wish we had the clarity of Jesus’ teaching and his presence among us.

But we do! We have 4 Gospels, 4 different and fascinating records of the life, teaching, and miracles of Jesus.  We also have all the letters by Paul and others that have been saved. We have some 2000 years of church history and Tradition.  Many wise and faithful Christians have left their legacies, their lives, their writings, their studies for us.  It is an incredible and vast collection to help us grow in the faith.  We no longer have to wonder who Jesus was.  Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit; we have the Spirit indwelling in our hearts to guide us.

But what if we fail to read or study the teaching of Jesus? We are like people who read only the first paragraph of each chapter of a book and think they are ready to attend a book club discussion. We would be like students who don’t read the assigned text book, expecting a couple of important bulletin points to be emailed to them by the professor.  Hearing just short passages on Sunday robs us of the crucial settings and background of why, for example, Jesus told a particular parable.  Jesus often refers to Moses and Abraham – how can we understand those references unless we know those characters and their stories?

Have you ever been pressed to explain or defend baptism or the Eucharist, and had difficulty? Do we take the Traditions of the church seriously? Do we learn all we can about why we pray as we do, why we have the sacraments and the depth of their meaning? No wonder we are so hesitant to tell other people about our faith and what it means to us.  Our message to others will only be attractive when we include our knowledgeable and personal experience with God as Creator, Brother, and Friend.

Perhaps we think God is silent because we are silent about God. Perhaps we have stopped listening to God and focused on all the “thunder and lightening” of our culture instead.  Perhaps we still fear God, because we do not yet know God.  Oh, that today we would hear God’s voice!

 

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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.

Forget the Fish and the cucumbers

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on September 26, 2015

26th Sunday Year B 9-27-15 Numbers 11: 25-29, Ps 19, James 5: 1-6, Mark 9: 38-48

Moses, as you know, was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, across the desert and into the Promised Land. But it was not a smooth trek through the desert. The Israelites walked in the desert approximately 3,000 years ago, but there were people just like us in a lot of ways – particularly that they complained a lot. Just before our 1st reading starts, they were complaining about food. “Oh, that we would have meat to eat,” they whined. “We remember the fish & cucumbers, the melons & the leeks, the onions & the garlic in Egypt. We are famished and have nothing but this manna.” God had sent them manna, the “food of the angels” everyday, always enough to fill them, but they seemed to be stuck in “nothing-is-ever-good-enough” mode. Entire families stood at the entrance of their tents and cried about the food.

Moses was overwhelmed. Desperate, he prayed to God, “”Why do you treat me so badly? Are you so angry with me that I must be burdened with all these people? They are like babies crying, that I must carry them around! But I cannot carry them; they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, please kill me now so I won’t have to listed to this whining.” So God replied, “Assemble 70 trusted elders, and I will take some of the spirit of leadership from you and give it to them, that they may share the burden.” So it happened. But one little thing went wrong.

Two of the elders somehow missed the memo & had remained in the camp and did not come to the meeting tent along with the others. Despite not being with the rest of the elders, they still received the spirit. They were prophesying in the camp, just as the others had prophesied at the meeting tent. Prophesying was an outward, physical sign of the granting of the spirit. So, Joshua came running to Moses to tell him what was happening and urging Moses to stop them.

This should sound a lot like the passage from Mark. “Jesus, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him.” Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one can do good deeds in my name and malign me at the same time. Even if he only gives someone a cup of water because of me, he will be rewarded.” But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. “If you stop anyone (the term “little one” is not limited to children) from doing good in my name, if you divert their good intentions into sin, then you deserve capital punishment, death by drowning.” This is not said to support capital punishment, but to emphasize the critical importance of small kindnesses, generosity & good works. It’s that serious. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus keeps going.

If something as valuable as your foot or your hand or your eye causes you to sin, or someone else to sin, then rid yourself of that part. Otherwise, your entire body will be thrown into Gehenna. Gehenna had been an ancient site of human sacrifice. In Jesus day, it was a scary burning garbage dump in a valley near Jerusalem. You, yourself, become like trash when you trash someone else’s good deeds. Our actions toward others carry heavy consequences indeed.   Our thoughtless exclusions and self-centeredness can have huge repercussions.

There are many applications of these readings, but I have one particular favorite. This may be the best reason I have ever heard for the ordination of women. “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets” (or deacons or priests).   Would that the Lord bestow His spirit on them all. If only each one was free to act on the call of God, male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, strong or handicapped. CACINA has taken great steps toward this, but we need to frequently remind ourselves to keep the way open & God’s sacraments available, to remain inclusive & ready to take the responsibility for acting out the Word of God. 

When my son and his wife went to prepare for their first child’s baptism, all they got was castor-oil-style dogma served cold with a frown. It was the last time they entered a church. I thought church history would be really interesting, until I began to read of all the greedy, violent, nasty, underhanded, evil things done in the name of Christianity. No wonder Moses was so exasperated and Jesus was so very harsh in his correction. 

Another action, equally serious & harmful, is addressed by James, and that is to hoard wealth and goods far in excess of need, particularly at the expense of the poor. I thought of this as I listened to Pope Francis’ speech to Congress. He said, “Business is a noble vocation…producing wealth & improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity…especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” That is the good side of wealth. However, if we have so many clothes that some are never worn, so much food it rots, so much jewelry that it rusts, use so much energy we deplete the earth & have so much in the storage unit we forget what’s in there, then if we are able but fail to pay our legitimate debts and neglect charity, well, that’s another story. But just when I feel righteous, I compare my wealth and lifestyle to most of the world & I realize how very wealthy I am. The image of Francis’ Fiat among the fuel-guzzling, emissions-spewing SUVs remains in my head. St. James, you warn me how easy it is to guard my own inflated image without considering the consequences to others. 

And that is just the right time to read our Psalm. The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple; the laws of the Lord are true. Yet, in our blindness, who can their detect their own failings? Restrain me from sin, let it not rule over me. Amen

July 26, 2015 Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity Parish

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on July 26, 2015