Inclusive Text- Readings- Ezekiel 37: 21-28 / Psalm: Jeremiah 31: 10-12ABCD, 13 / John 11: 45-56
Think back to a time when you coordinated a project, knew something was wrong but could have gone right, messed up by others, but decided to take the blame and fall on the sword. You may have been involved to some degree knowing that everyone contributed their best but no other course could have been taken. It didn’t mean you had to suffer and die for it but perhaps you avoided going to the end because of fear. Something so minor in that sense, but what would happen, we would get through it, right?
On the other hand, as we know, Jesus had to go through it. Jesus in essence had to fall on the sword because so much was at stake. The soul of humanity was at hand. Jesus could have turned back and leave God, but he knew deep down inside it had to be done.
What were the times in our lives when we could not turn back? What forced us to make the decisions that we had made when it came to others? Could we have turned back? If we did, why? When we didn’t, what gave us the courage to speak up for the cause?
rev. Michael Theogene
Inclusive Text- Readings- Jeremiah 20: 10-13 / Psalm 18: 2-3ABC, 4-7 / John 10: 31-42
Inclusive Text- Readings- 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
Today our Old Testament reading is about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, and Elisha, the prophet of God. The story is 27 verses, the entire 5th chapter of the 2nd Book of Kings. But, we only get 3 verses in the Lectionary. I would guess that most people are not familiar with the “rest of the story”, and it is a fascinating story. Some of these ideas came from Walter Brueggemann, a well known author & scholar of the Old Testament, and I thought they were worth sharing.
Naaman was highly respected by the King of Syria, for he was a skilled leader and very successful in battle. BUT, he was “a leper”, with repulsive sores and flakey, scaly skin. It would cost him his military/political career and his social position if he didn’t find a cure.
In an ironic twist, Naaman’s wife had a slave girl from Israel, captured in a raid, and this slave knew of the miracles done by the prophet Elisha. So the King of Syrian gave Naaman a letter of introduction to the King of Israel, and Naaman set off, loaded with 10 silver coins, 6,000 gold pieces and 10 expensive sets of clothing, a fortune really, to buy his healing.
Well, the King of Israel tore his clothing in despair, thinking this must be an excuse for the Syrians to invade and destroy Israel, because clearly, no one could cure leprosy. But Elisha heard about the ruckus, and suggested that the king send Naaman to him.
When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s door, Elisha didn’t even bother to come out. He just sent someone else to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the muddy old river Jordon. Naaman was infuriated. He was certain Elisha would at least wave his hands over him, say prayers, and invoke the Israelite God to cure him. So Naaman was in a rage, “We have better, cleaner rivers in Damascus, I could have stayed home and washed in a river!” He turned to leave, but his servants reasoned with him. “It’s a simple thing to do. You would have done something difficult if he told you to, why not at least try?” He did, and he was not only healed, but his skin was as smooth and clean as a child’s.
Now, no story is complete until you place it in the culture of the time, and in the Middle East then, you always had to reciprocate for any favor. So Naaman returns to pay Elisha. And Naaman even adds a confession of faith, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” Elisha refuses any payment. No co-pay, no professional fees, no deductable, no monthly premium, no bill to be sent in the mail. And then, Naaman has a curious request – could he please take 2 mule loads of dirt, so he can worship no other god except the Lord, on Israeli soil, at home, in Syria. People equated worship with a physical and geographical place, and Naaman wanted some of that “place” to take home.
He also added one little caveat to the deal. He would still have to enter the Damascus temple of the idol Rimmon with the King, and he wanted forgiveness in advance for bowing down to that idol for social and political reasons, with the understanding that he believed the Lord was the one true God. Now, what do you suppose Elisha’s reply to that was?
Elisha said, “Go in peace.” “Go in Peace”?? That was not what I expected. I was waiting for a fiery, “If the Lord is God, bow to HIM!! Why would Elisha be so calm about pre-planned idolatry from this man whose life has just been saved by God? I find it amazing.
Elisha was not in the business of selling health care, after all. He was in the business of peace. He brought peace to Naaman, who came knowing only fear and death.
Elisha brought peace to many people by healing a dreaded disease; he contributed to the common good by overcoming suffering.
Elisha brought peace because now a powerful and well known leader has confessed that the Lord is the only source of power and healing.
Elisha contributed to a step toward peace between Israel and Syria. If more people did that, our world would be a different place today.
Elisha gave us all a reminder of the abundance of God’s love and healing, which is freely, abundantly given to all. Elisha, like God, did not hire a staff that counts our failures or the times we feel we must bow to some idol. God does not barter for peace. The peace of God, like rain, falls on the just and the rest of us.
Finally, Elisha chose to remain free to move on in peace himself, not bound by any missteps by others. He had God’s work to do; he would focus on the good & not concern himself with judgments. He would stay free to let God’s spirit move as and when it would.
My grandchildren tell me they don’t like Christians because they’re in your face and pushy about their religion, but yet don’t seem to know much about their faith. It sounds like the Christians they meet aren’t in the peace business. Are they looking for some kind of paybacks, such as increasing church attendance and donations? Are they unfamiliar with the work of God’s Spirit?
Even if we were the only ones in town in the peace business, the only ones who seem interested in freely handing out the sacraments without barriers, feeding the hungry, distributing laundry baskets, and caring for the elderly, that’s all right. We can be the only ones who end every encounter with peace, who move on to the next encounter without noting the failures of our brothers and sisters. We can affirm each other, complete with those idols we each cling to. We can spend less time and effort worrying about our scales and our flakey-ness, and focus instead on something constructive.
Peace is the gift that heals us all, but peace spreads by our contact with each other, one at a time. Then we are ready to praise and worship the God of love and healing and peace.
The first reading from Habakkuk sounds like something we might see on TV or see in the newspaper today. Violence, discord, war, evil. Why must we look at misery. Yet throughout history, these things seem like a constant following humanity throughout the ages. Contrary to this, God gives a vision, a look at a time of fulfillment and peace. He calls for faith, but what is that? Faith is not stability or security, it is not a thing, but a call to act. It is more of a verb to do what we are supposed to do. To act and carry out and move on with our lives. It is doing what is expected of us in our commitment to Christ and living out the trust placed in us and our lives. It is doing the expected tasks without any presumption of reward. Certainly, times of darkness and feelings of being lost are possible, but the reign of God is the end and goal of our faith.
What must the Apostles today have experienced to ask for an increase of faith? Yet, Jesus told them the smallest amount of faith, compared to one of the smallest seeds of earth was sufficient to do miraculous things. Faith is doing what we are called to do in our daily lives. Yes,we are capable of great deeds, but as the parable indicates we like the servants or slaves are called to do what was our place in life. Such activity shows our trust and faith and leads us to our final vision. But let us not forget that faith or that trust God gives us is a gift, one he gives and waits for our response. His gift is a call to action on our part, and a call we should respond to each day regardless of our mood or feelings. Living each day as we are called to do is how we complete the call Christ has made to us. In return his love for us is complete.
Once again today we are reminded of wealth and poverty and our responsibilities in using worldly goods. Why, we might say, are we always talking about the poor? Poverty is a relative term and means different things in different parts of the world. Wherever we go in the world, we are going to find poverty and poor people. It is just a proven fact that no society or country can simply eliminate poverty from their midst. Even in our own country, if we recall the “War on Poverty,” we know that while it helped poor people, it did not eliminate poverty. Yet, Jesus keeps reminding us that we have a responsibility to those around us, a responsibility born out of a love of God and a love of neighbor that should fill us as we make our commitment at baptism. Not all of us are called to live a life of poverty or a religious life in some religious order. But all of us are called to be responsible to ourself and others in our daily life. How we live and how we act toward others, is certainly reflective of our beliefs and values. What are we to do, if a hungry man is before us? There is no easy answer, but have we done what we can or do we simply leave it to others? Can we really live in comfort if we can see and experience the discomfort of others? The important thing is that we try, and that we do
not forget. If we truly love our neighbor, we can’t forget that we all have needs and wants. Christ often reminds us we should not get too comfortable but to reach out to others in need, whether it be physical, psychological, or spiritual. We are called to share what many call our time or treasure or talent. It doesn’t mean we are called to invest our whole lives, but certainly at times we can give of one or more of these. In reality, it means we are giving of ourself, of what I am and what I have and can share out of love of Jesus and his love for all of us. Never forget that often it is not the grand gestures that captures the hearts and heals others, but the simple day-to-day things to bring a sense of comfort to another. Openness, loving and sharing, sometimes just presence or listening is the best formula for a loving peaceful life.
Today, the readings talk about wealth and power. I think many believers feel that Jesus was opposed to wealth and the wealthy and to those who rule and have power. I think the first thing we must realize is Jesus did not condemn the wealthy or the rulers who had power, but was most concerned about how the wealth and power was used. The prophet Amos today tells us how much the Lord abhors those who take advantage of the poor, or even cheats them. The Lord will never forget them or their lack of love and abuse of fellow creatures. Every person is valuable to him.
In the gospel, many become confused that the owner praises the servant who takes measures to insure his future by granting discounts in his master’s name. Like a two edge sword, the servant curries favor and some security while at the same time presenting his master as generous and giving and caring. What seeming praise he gets, is that yes he somehow solves the immediate problem, but, and there always is a but, what of the future and his relationship to God. Can a truly dishonest person have a loving relationship with God. It is interesting that Luke uses the word Mammon. Mammon is an Aramaic word which means trust or believe. A word we use frequently comes from the same root and also means trust or believe. That word is “Amen” which we use to affirm “I believe” or trust. So ultimately, we see that Jesus is asking us where we place our trust, our belief. Are we children of the present time or place, looking out for ourselves or are we Children of God looking to the future? That choice certainly defines us in how we look at ourselves, at authority, at wealth and how we use them and act.
Yes, Amen is a powerful word, and an ever-present way to affirm our love and relationship with God and all of his creation. It at the same time is a powerful prayer as God all ready know all our thoughts and desires and asks only that we be honest with ourself and with Him.
All the readings today talk of sin, forgiveness and God’s love. In the first, we see the people setting up an idol as Moses and Yahweh were together on the mountain. Only Moses’ interceding and pleading spared some of God’s anger. Paul acknowledges in the second reading that he had a checkered past and actually was a terror to the Christians, but Jesus interceded and forgave and presented him with a new mission. In the gospel, we see Jesus enraged the scribes and pharisees by his eating around with all different segments of the society and the people he encountered. One of the problems of the scribes and pharisees of Jesus time was that they were only able to see things strictly in terms of black and white. Love, mercy and forgiveness were not part of their vocabulary unless of course it pertained to themselves. So many then saw the law in terms of absolutes directing humanity, rather than seeing it in term as a way to serve and help humanity to relate and serve God. The parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep were meant to point out the importance of what we have, that a possession, or thing or person, were meant to be kept, to be sought out to be kept near and dear.
The story of the Father and the 2 sons points out not only forgiveness, but the encompassing love that God has and is always extending. This story shows that both sons were at fault and misread the Father’s love. The one who left tested it most by moving on and losing sight of it until he returned. The other son in his feeling of superiority and desire of exclusivity of the Father’s love and care, missed out on what that love and care was and how he was too much wrapped up in his own care and concern. After all a father’s love is not meant to be exclusive but is inclusive of all his children. So it is with God that his love is for all his creation, and it extends to those who also need his forgiveness. All God asks is that we seek him out, ask for his forgiveness and love. Every human ever born must seek out this forgiveness and love except for Jesus Himself, who took on all of humankind faults and sins as mediator before His Father. Thus, today our message is threefold: mercy, forgiveness, love.