CACINA

Counter Cultural Calm and Comfort-All Souls

  • All Soul’s Day – Isaiah 25: 6-9, Ps 27: 1-9,13-14, Romans 5:5-11, John 6: 37-40

 

Tuesday afternoon, I sat with a bedridden elderly woman. I was just beginning to introduce myself to some residents at a nursing home.  I had no information about this woman other than a staff person suggesting she might enjoy a visit.  So I asked, “How’s it going for you?”

Her eyes began to form tears. “Oh, my husband, he’s here, he has dementia, Alzheimer’s.  He sits in a wheel chair and he just talks nonsense…he was never that way before.”   She made no mention of it, but it was clear she had her own health issues too.

We talked for a few minutes about the strain of watching a beloved spouse’s health deteriorate. I asked her: would she like to have me read to her out the Bible.  “Yes”, she nodded.  So I opened to Psalm 103, and read of the goodness of God, about God’s love and faithfulness, compassion and mercy.  She grew visibly calmer as I read.  “Oh, thank you,” she breathed.  The Bible I had with me was donated by the Gideon’s, and I left it with her.  Those free Gideon Bibles have a well-deserved reputation for helping people who are overwhelmed by life.

It’s very easy, and entirely normal, to forget God’s love when crisis strikes.   But in every section of the Bible, we can find reminders of the tender love God has for us, all of us.  Today one of our reading is from Isaiah, a Hebrew prophet who lived some 800 years before Christ.  It speaks of the Lord ending death and grief and tears on the earth, and offers assurance that the Lord will save us.  Then the Psalmist writes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation……..wait for the Lord with courage.”

Years later, St. Paul declared with great certainty that we will not be disappointed by our hopes in God.  Wearied by the sound bites of politicians, we need to be reminded of this!  Paul says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us…we are justified and saved through him…”  Paul adds, “We also boast of God.”  Now, if you have read much of St. Paul, you know when Paul says you can boast of something, he means it’s rock solid, without a doubt.

But if you might have any remaining doubt about hoping in God, our Gospel will dispel it.  John quotes Jesus saying, “…Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”

All Soul’s Day is about remembering those who have gone before us; those we miss, those we will mourn for the rest of our lives. But this day calms us, and draws us back from the pain of loss to the comfort of God’s love.  It is almost counter-cultural to remember that God didn’t make us disposable. We are eternal beings.  It is absolutely counter-cultural to say that we are eternal beings, but we still don’t know very much at all about eternity.  And it is probably close to anti-cultural to say that we don’t need to know more about eternity than we already know.  What do we know?  We know Eternity is real, prepared and waiting for you and me and those we love, and it will be beyond anything experienced in this life.

So, today we rejoice in life. We light candles to remind us of eternal life; their light breaks through the darkness of doubt.  We delight in the memory of those who have been born into eternity, even as we remain here for a time, and we continue to share the love of God.

 

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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.

 

The Way We Experience God

Posted in christian, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on May 19, 2016

Holy Trinity, 5-22-16, John 17:12-15, Romans 5: 1-5, Ps 8: 4-9, Proverbs 8: 22-31

 

This celebration of The Holy Trinity has never been something I really looked forward to, mostly because I have never heard an explanation for the doctrine of The Holy Trinity that really satisfied me. It has always been a mystery for me.  It has been like wandering in a big dark cave with a little flashlight.

 

These days, the bookshelves are increasing filled with books which not only don’t explain the doctrine, but instead point out the difficulties or fallacies the author finds in it. They find some example of how The Holy Trinity seems to be self contradictory, or seems to have gaps in understanding.  I come away thinking either it’s just too deep for my brain, or else it is an elaborate excuse for not understanding God at all.  Then, people ask me to explain it.  So I avoid the question by preaching on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  At least with that, I’m on really solid ground!

 

But this past week I read something that made sense, so I want to share it with you. John Foley, a Jesuit, wrote this: “…the Triune God is not some kind of brainy speculation by scholars. It is simply the way we experience God in the world.  Christian living is the Trinity in action.”

 

I work with a young mother whose parenting style I really admire. She and her husband just came back from a week in Disneyland with their 5 year old daughter.   She has high expectations of this little girl, and teaches her very traditional values of respect and obedience.  But she deeply loves the child and is very attentive to her; she is lavish in her praise and rewards for good behavior.  This mother enormously enjoyed the week in Disneyland because she saw it through her child’s eyes.  She was not concerned with how Disney designed or constructed the place, or with the reality of the Disney stories or characters.  Instead her eyes were open to the charm of the buildings, her daughter’s delight in meeting the characters, the details of the presentation, and the wonder of it all.

 

From that perspective, I ask you, what is wrong with finding a way to express how we experience God in our daily lives, without focusing on what we don’t yet understand about Divinity or without trying to put some rigid human imprint on God? In fact, isn’t it very right to take great delight in how God creates a myriad of ways for us to experience and rejoice in divine love, grace, mercy, and companionship?  Isn’t it exactly right to fill ourselves with the experiences of God as God comes to us, and then have that fullness to take into our needy world?

 

Someone once wrote that God is not like a blind date, someone we might wisely be a little guarded with. With God, there’s no need for precautions to safeguard ourselves.  We do not have to arrange a time and place to meet; we don’t have to struggle to make ourselves more attractive than we think we are.  We don’t have to find a dating service to test us and find someone “compatible”.  God is never darkness, always pure love, and finds us beautiful from the moment our first cells are created.  God is available 24/7/365, never on vacation, never holds a grudge and always forgives us.  We can argue with God, because God is always right and patient with us.  God will never stomp away, disgusted with us, wanting to leave us for someone else.  How do we know this?  By the way God self-reveals to us – in our experience and in the experiences written down in scripture.  We share the miracles we experience and our revelations of God with others, and we discover that God is forever finding the perfect way to reveal who the “Great I AM” is at any moment.

 

That is exactly what our scriptures tell us today. Proverbs presents Wisdom as a woman, with God from before the creation of the earth, who was God’s craftsman (participating in the act of creation).  Wisdom is God’s delight, and who delighted in being with God, and who found delight in the people that God made.  Meditate on that one!!   This is not your old stogy idea of Trinity, but draws an image of a God full to the brim of joy and creativity, of delight and companionship, who gives us the best and the most in our world.  If you read the rest of that chapter in Proverbs, you find the Wisdom of God calling to us.  She reaches out, ready and able to teach us, to give us understanding, and to fill us with her treasures.  That may not be what you’ve heard in some Trinity Sunday homilies, but I beg you – read it again and take in the deep, deep love and longing that God has for us.

 

The Psalm is a reflection on the works of God we see around us and how God self-reveals in our world. Who are we that God should be aware of us?  Yet God made us little less than gods, and allows us to rule over his creation.  We are not puppets or toys; we are “of” God.

 

John speaks of how God guides us and gives us direction and understanding. In today’s language, we will get the memos, we are in the loop, we get the word straight from the top.  There are no barriers between us and administration, we are valued, we are part of the family, and we will receive an inheritance.

 

In Romans, Paul says this in a more tradition way. He reminds us that God has chosen to free us from sin and guilt, that we are in peace, not contention, with God, and faith brings us grace and hope.  Like Paul, we can experience the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  God proved this love through Christ’s death on the cross even while we were not yet willing to trust in God’s love.  Now, forever changed by this Love, we boast of God, whatever our circumstances, because the hope God gives never disappoints.

 

All of these writings reveal God in different ways, and your experience of God may be different still. But the love and goodness of God are consistent through all the ways God is revealed.  The more we open our eyes, the more we see of God in our world, despite the evil that God allows for the time being.  So if we experience the revelation of God in our world, the next logical question is, “Does the world see God revealed through us?” That, my friends is where the celebration of the Holy Trinity ultimately leads us.