This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The world is passing away...grab on to what is real.

A view of the Boulder Flat Irons in fall.
Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.  1 John 2:15-17  Translation from The Message
 Plain talk from John as we end the year.  Do not be misled by what appears to be real.  The world is passing away, is on its way out; so don't cling to a sinking ship.  Play the long game and secure eternal life by doing what the Divine One calls us to do.  The world--or the "flesh" as Paul terms it--is about grasping, having, holding, possessing things, people and power.  While that may lead to success in the world--in fact, it most assuredly does--John, Paul, and Jesus ask us to consider a different way of life, one in which having is not as nearly important as being.  Who I am in my deepest self is more important than what I have in terms of things, success, power, or position.

In this new year I pray that I will live out this way of life more fully.  I pray that the value of my IRA will not consume as much of my energy as the good being done by my charitable contributions.  I pray that my various technologies will not be more important to me than my relationships with family and friends.  I pray that my spiritual life consumes more of my attention than my physical life.  I pray that I remember everyday that "the world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out."

Friday, December 30, 2016

Be content with second place?

Grass Roots Art Center in Lucas Kansas
 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.  Colossians 3:12-014  Translation from The Message
As is typical, this rendering from The Message uses more idiomatic American English but also adds a phrase that is probably not in the original in any literal sense:  "Be...content with second place."  For contemporary Americans, this phrase gets at the heart of many of our issues as we try to live the Christian life in the midst of our competitive and media drenched culture.  We seemed programmed to not accept second place.  That is for losers, not winners and we are and are meant to be winners.  If we lose that competitive edge to win, to be in first place, we will begin to decline as a society and culture.  That is our fear.

This scripture is not about national political strategy but it goes much deeper than that.  As Christians we have been incorporated into the Body of Christ and have thus entered into a new life and new reality that is based on a different set of values and norms.  In this new world, who is in first place, or second, or last is irrelevant.  As important we might think it might be, our rank is not to be the driving force of our life.  Love is to be that driving force that permits us to forgive those who oppose us and to be even-tempered regadless of the way events turn out.

The worst thing is not to be in second place.  The worst thing is to close our hearts to the saving presence of the spirit which the Divine One offers us.

Love everyone but not him...surely not him.

Fall morning at Lazy Acres Alpaca Farm
Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn’t know which end is up, blinded by the darkness. 1 John 2:9-11
I know this.  This is nothing new.  A faithful Christian is called to love brothers and sisters without regard for any circumstance of their lives.  Admittedly my life is typically filled with people whom it is easy to love because I like them or they wouldn't be in my life.  There are exceptions, of course, where family or job relationships require interaction but even with these I can find a way to minimize those relationships.  So I can pretty much go through my life liking and loving easy to love folks.  It is always easier if they like and love me as well.

But what people I don't like?  Well, I am to love them as well.  Who might they be?  There are the ususal suspects of family members or co-workers who have hurt me or worked against me.  These are people with whom I prefer not to associate but rather those who have actively and consciously worked to hurt me or cause me pain.  While I can manage my life so that they are not really part of it, I have memories of them and their actions.  When i recall those memories, I often allow the acid of revenge to rise my throat.  I can easily dwell on how much they hurt me.  I can even begin to fantasize about how I might hurt them in return or about how I have hurt them.  Each of us have people in our lives from whom we are tempted to withhold the forgiveness that John writes about and even to withhold the love that Jesus preached and exemplified.  This reading calls us to reflect on those people and to pray for the grace to truly forgive and love even if we do not choose to have them in our lives.

Further in this highly contentious election season in the United States, both candidates were demonized by each other.  In the aftermath of the clear, though somewhat ambiguous results, many still harbor strong feelings against the man who will be inaugurated as president on January 20.  These feelings are at times so strong that the language easily verges into hateful sentiments.  Even the losing candidate is subjected to such hateful speech by those who opposed her.

As difficult as it may be accept or understand, regardless of how much we disagree with and even intensely dislike one of these candidates, John and Jesus before him calls us to love them both.  Further that love is not contingent on what they say or do.  The call to love is universal and particular.  I am called to love all humanity and all creation and to love every specific person and creature.  Otherwise we will simply stumble around in the darkness.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

It's not just the Divine One and me.

American Falls at Niagara Falls

But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin. 1 John 1:7
The first epistle of John lets us in on a central feature of the Christian life.  Jesus as the incarnated Divine One saves me through the sacrifice of his life--the inevitable consequence of living out the values of loving your neighbor as yourself.  This action creates a new reality in me so that I live in the light of the Divine One.  I live in the light but the light lives in me so that I become a beacon of the light of the Divine One.  The Spirit shines through me into the world and illumines everything.  This is a tremendous mystery.

Of even greater significance is that this saving light/spirit creates a shared life in which we all participate.  The Divine One saves not just me as an individual but saves me as a member of the community of light and spirit.  I cooperate with that Divine spirit when I live my life in a community, in light of a community.  A focus on my individual advantage and welfare is not compatible with this fundamental dynamic.  Perhaps that is why the stories of the earliest Christians in the New Testament are basically stories of their common life together.

Paul's conversion story might be an exception but even that moves quickly to Paul's place in a community that nourishes and forms him.  Further his life of faith is one of community founding and building, not one of individual holiness, as holy as he might have been.

The saving action of Christ that we experience in the sacrament of Baptism is not an action of making an individual holy but one of incorporating an individual into a holy community.  Both Christian theology and anthropology make the same point:  we are all in this life together and we thrive best when we recognize this fact.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Don't be fooled by Christmas

Fountains on Cal State Long Beach campus
"When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family."  Matthew 10:21
Lest I get misled by our celebrations of Christmas, the scripture readings for December 26 remind me of the "cost of discipleship" as Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed it.  The first reading is the story from the Acts of the Apostles of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr.  The gospel is from the second discourse of Jesus in Matthew where Jesus speaks of what it will be like to proclaim the good news that he is bringing. It will not go well for him and his disciples can expect no different reaction.

Once people figure out that the message is not really about the warm feelings engendered by our Christmas celebrations, they will withhold approval and perhaps even actively opposes those who repeat the call for repentance and conversion.  Jesus admits in the preceding verses omitted from the gospel reading for today that he is sending out his followers like "sheep into a pack of wolves."  He advises them to be as "wily as serpents" and as "naive as doves."  But even this won't really make a difference in how they and their message will be received.  The difference will be in them.  It is essential that they remain faithful to the core message in the face of rejection, ridicule and even persecution.  He tells them that this opposition will be especially vigorous from those who are close to them, from those who are expecting comforting news of salvation rather than a message that calls on them to change.

The "Spirit" of the Divine One will be working through them even if they are not all that aware of how they are to act and what they are to say.  They only need to be faithful to the core message of the Good News:  love the Divine One with all your heart, mind, and soul and love others--all others even your enemies--as yourself.  Don't be concerned about being right, about being on top, about the high regard of other people;  just live you life as though the age has ended, Christ has returned, and the Reign of the Divine One is here, now, and real.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Sun of Justice breaks forth on a desolate world.

Roger Fenton 1855 photo from Crimean War
O Radiant Dawn,splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.  Gospel acclamation for December 24
The photo above is one of the most famous photos depicting the devastation of war.  Respecting Victorian strictures of decorum, Fenton covered this war without showing any photos of dead bodies, of which there were many.  This devastated landscape filled with canon balls and shot is all that remains of a normal landscape after the horror of war.  His titled this "Valley of the Shadow of Death."

It is into this world that the Sun of Justice, the Radiant Dawn, comes as a person who was and is "fully human and fully divine."  As Luke writes in the Canticle of Zechariah,
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.  Luke 1:78-79
My prayer this Christmas is that this peace will be within me, that peace will characterize my personal relationships with family members and friends, that our political life will be governed by a sense of peace and respect, and that the nations of the world seek to walk the path of peace.  I am able to be a factor in some of these spheres; in others my personal impact is remote or non-existent.  I pray that I do not fall victim to despair but am able with the grace of the Divine One to construct a viable sense of hope for us all.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Great Reversal may not be what it seems

Sunset at Clyde Motherhouse
“The LORD puts to death and gives life,casts down to Sheol and brings up again.The LORD makes poor and makes rich,humbles, and also exalts.He raises the needy from the dust;from the ash heap lifts up the poor,To seat them with noblesand make a glorious throne their heritage.For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,and he has set the world upon them."  1 Samuel 2:6-8
These verses are from the Canticle of Hannah which she sings when she leaves Samuel as a nazirite at the Temple with Eli.  The immediately preceding verses describe Yahweh as one who humbles the proud and powerful and gives triumph and spoils to the weak.  This reversal theme will form a major part of the good news preached by Jesus the Messiah of the Divine One.  We have heard it proclaimed often:  the rich man and Lazarus, the Beatitudes, and other stories.  The Divine One will cast down those powerful forces which have enslaved the people and raise up the poor, the outcast, the sick to prominence.

Perhaps the parable about not taking a prominent place at a banquet lest someone more important comes and you are asked to go down to a lower level sums it up best.  I believe that this reversal can be easily misinterpreted and that it was in fact misinterpreted by many who heard and experienced Jesus.  It would be easy to understand his message as meaning that the urban elite in Jerusalem--both civil and ecclesiastical--would be demoted and those who they had been oppressing would ascend to the top positions and thus the power to oppress the former oppressors.  I am sure that many did and still do.

But, of course, this was not the message.  Jesus wasn't talking about what we might call "regime change" but rather a revolution in understanding.  While the world, Paul would come to call it the "flesh," might see things this way, Jesus was talking about a reality that under girded and superseded the way of the world.  There are rich and poor, powerful and weak, proud and humble and the Divine One is the source of life for all these.  The reign of the Divine One announced by Jesus did not mean that there would be no poor, no weak, no humble but rather that they would not be excluded or devalued by others.  How else to understand Hannah's word that Yahweh
raises the needy from the dust;from the ash heap lifts up the poor,To seat them with noblesand make a glorious throne their heritage.
No matter their station in life--poor, sick, marginalized, ignorant, contrary or rich, healthy, in leadership, knowledgeable,  personable--all people deserves deference, respect, compassion, assistance when needed, and love.  The Divine One is the source of all life--"For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and he has set the world upon them."--and the divine will is that we all love each other regardless of our station in the world of the flesh.  This clearly has more importance for someone like me who because of my race, gender, age, and economic status have the ability to oppress others, consciously or not.

Monday, December 19, 2016

John the Baptist, the last prophet? And did he know?

A snowy 47 Charissa Run
"He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,and he will turn many of the children of Israelto the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijahto turn the hearts of fathers toward childrenand the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”  Luke 1:15-17
These are the words of Gabriel to Zechariah announcing that in his their old age he and Elizabeth will have a son to be named John who will be essential to the coming of the Messiah.  Zechariah cannot believe this and so is struck dumb until the circumcision of John.  All this takes place in the Jerusalem Temple, the center and heart of Judaism.

John does indeed become a prophet calling the Jews of his time to turn from a life of disregard of Torah to a life of repentance and following the Law.  Yet as we know from later passages in this and Matthew's gospel, John knew that he only prepared the way for the One who was to come.  As important as conformance to the Torah was to John, he must have known that that conformance was just not enough, that as Paul understood, it simply was not enough even if it were possible to meet all the demands of the Law.

John seems to have own, or at least suspected, that his cousin Jesus was bringing a new and radically different message, a different "good news."  Further he knew that the message of Jesus superseded his message and made it unnecessary.  The message of Jesus did not focus on the Law or custom or even overt religious or ethical behavior.  Jesus brought a message of "ontological change" through baptism and faith in the Divine One.  

"Ontological" is a word that we rarely use because it deals with an understanding to which we rarely attend.  Ontology is the study of being itself, not particular beings but the very essence and notion of "to be."  Metaphysics is another word for it.  Jesus didn't use words even remotely similar when he talked about his message and mission but Paul helped us understand that the message of Jesus brought about such a fundamental change in those who believed that they, in fact, became different in their very "beingness."  

St. Paul expressed it almost lyrically when he proclaimed, "Now not I live but Christ lives in me!"  This is so different from calling people to repentance for not living up to the Law that somehow John realized that his cousin was his Lord and that he was not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandal.  And yet, John lyally continued his mission to prepare the way for one greater than he was, the one whose death and resurrection would change everything.

I am called to live out of this new reality of accepting my sonship of the Divine One.  I know that things I do and say and think barely scratch the surface of this reality.   Yet I am called  to do the best I can and to, with John, prepare the way of the Lord.

Friday, December 16, 2016

What's left out can say a lot.

Reading Room in Library of Congress
Nor should the eunuch say,“See, I am a dry tree.”For thus says the LORD:To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,who choose what pleases me,and who hold fast to my covenant,I will give them, in my houseand within my walls, a monument and a nameBetter than sons and daughters;an eternal name, which shall not be cut off, will I give them.  Isaiah 56:3b-5
These verses from the opening poem of Third Isaiah are not include in the lectionary reading for today.  The lines that are included speak to the universality of the re-establishment of Israel after the Babylonian Captivity.  The old laws about exclusivity and restriction to a chosen race are now to be understood differently.  Who your ancestors were is no longer the central issue.  Faithfulness to the covenant and "keeping the sabbath" now become the operative principles.  While earlier passages in first Isaiah indicate that Yahweh's promise of faithfulness is unconditional, Third Isaiah introduces a different note:  the obligation of the Divine One's people to live a righteous life in response to the Divine One's faithful relationship to them.

Now, in Third Isaiah, Yahweh's people clearly includes foreigners who can join the "chosen people" on an equal footing.  " For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."  But what about people who are "damaged goods," who are disfigured and imperfect physically?  What about the eunuchs?  Torah excluded such people from Temple worship participation because their physical imperfection was in conflict with the ritual purity laws.  In an ideal sense, this did not have any implication for their inherent worth as human beings but clearly over time such would be the inevitable result.  Third Isaiah says that even these people can enter into the family of the Divine One on an equal footing.

Why the lectionary excludes these verses is anybody's guess.  Mine would be a fear that somehow homosexuality would be understood as normal and acceptable.  Whether these lines can legitimately be understood in that way is a question that others would have to answer.  The more important point is the nature of this "equal footing."

Frederick Gaiser has helped me understand the fundamental point of the passage:

Finally, in the eyes of the prophet, it is not a matter of eunuchs and foreigners being "allowed" into a community that is whole in itself and that now condescends to let in some who, alas, are not like them. Rather, God is gathering "others" to "the outcasts of Israel" that God has "already gathered" (56:8). The people of Israel can accept the inclusion of others because they know themselves to be outcasts and sinners, welcome in God’s house because of who God is and what God has done, not because of their own righteousness. There is no "we" who magnanimously admit "them"; there is a community of outcasts who together recognize their common need of undeserved grace.  http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3404
Indeed, there is no "we" and no "them."  We are a community of outcasts who are enlivened by undeserved grace.  How sad that this understanding is weakened by ecclesiastical "powers that be" who feel the need to "protect" "us" from "them."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Divine One's love is never up for grabs.

Queenston cabbage
Though the mountains leave their placeand the hills be shaken,My love shall never leave younor my covenant of peace be shaken,says the LORD, who has mercy on you.  Isaiah 54:19
This fundamental truth is so hard for me to accept.  There is nothing I can do, say or think that will result in the Divine One withholding love from me.  Indeed, the Divine One's love for all creation is unqualified, unconditional,  non-contingent.

The Divine One does not love us because we are good.  We are good because the Divine One loves us.  And what is true for me is true for all humans and all things.  There are no preconditions to that love.  There are no minimum qualifications that we have to meet.  We are used to that dynamic in our human relationships.  No matter what another person says, there are usually some expectations that have to be met before we are accepted as "one of us" and therefore worthy of concern and love.  But this does not happen with the Divine One.

As reassuring as this might be for me, the hook comes with the Divine One's expectation that my acceptance of this enduring and everlasting love will be evidenced by my enduring and everlasting love for all that is even including those who are in a real sense my enemies.  I am to love those who seek to do me harm both intentionally and unintentionally.  This doesn't mean that I simply allow myself to be harmed or that I don't try to defend myself but it does mean that my response is not to inflict harm on those who do wish to harm me.  Revenge of any sort is antithetical to the love of the Divine One as described to us by Jesus the Christ.

Jesus said that "my yoke is easy and my burden light."  And it is.  All we have to do is accept divine love and then pass it on to everyone and everything.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Crooks and whores are getting in before me. What gives?

Above the winter storm on approach to Rochester
Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.  Matthew 21:32  The Message translation
 Jesus had just told the parable of the two sons who were asked to go work in the vineyard.  The first said he didn't want to but then later changed his mind and did.   The second son immediately said he would but then never showed up for work.  The question that Jesus poses to the priests and scholars in the Temple area in Jerusalem is simple:  Which of these sons did the will of his father?  They answer quickly and correctly that first son who did the will of the father even though he initially said he wouldn't.  The other one who verbally assented but failed to follow through clearly did not.

Jesus uses their own admission to condemn them for failure to hear the word of the Divine One proclaimed by John (and by Jesus) and then act on it by changing their lives to conform to new standards of understanding and conduct.  The proof should have been that crooks and whores heard John and responded by changing their lives and following a new path of righteousness.  And this righteousness is defined by the will of the Divine One:  to love the Divine One with our whole soul and heart and to love our neighbor (indeed even our enemies) as Jesus the Messiah loved.  Further the notion of neighbor was expanded to include everyone not just those in our family or geography.  Or put another way, we are to love as ourselves all people who are not like us.

Some people hear that teaching and agree with it.  Perhaps they even teach it to others but nothing changes in the way they live their lives.  Others hear it and realize how far they are from a life like that and changed their lives to conform to that ideal.  It has been said that the most difficult teaching assignment is to teach the well educated because they can easily think that they already know everything worth knowing.  In reality they have two tasks:  unlearn and then learn.  The leaders of the Jewish people were in that category and they, with a few exceptions, did not go through that transformative process of unlearning and then learning.  The crooks and whores did and so they were doing the will of the Divine One.

So, where do I find myself?  No matter how much I know, no matter how much I understand, no matter how much I think I may have changed, I always stand in need of conversion to a life that more closely adheres to this ideal.  I must always remember that this ideal of Christian righteousness is inherently communal.  Personal piety and rectitude is not the focus; it certainly was not for Jesus the Christ.  What counted for him was the way in which we related to each other.

If I rest content with where I stand or if I focus on personal piety, I will find myself at the back of the line.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mary's Hymn

Detail of World War I Memorial in Kansas City
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”  Luke 1:47
This verse is the final one of today's gospel reading celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most important Marian feast for Latinos.   It is celebrated at this time of the year as part of the Advent preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas.  These words are spoken by Mary when she visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant in her old age with a male child who will become John the Baptist, the Precursor.

Scholars generally agree that this likely not the words of Mary but rather an early Jewish Christian hymn.  Luke found it fitting to use it in this context.  Thus is expresses not just the thoughts of Mary but the faith of the earliest Christian community.  It basically announces the reign of the Divine One established by the Messiah.  As such, it makes clear that this reign is not the establishment of an earthly kingdom as might have been expected by the Jews.  When the prophets spoke and wrote about the coming of the coming of the Messiah, it was temptingly easy to hear it as a re-establishment of the kingdom centered Jerusalem, a re-establishment of what had been even though there wee clear indications that a different kind of kingdom was projected.

This hymn makes that abundantly clear in the later verses of what has become known as "The Magnificat" using the Latin for the opening words.  Consider these verses.
His mercy is from age to ageto those who fear him.He has shown might with his arm,dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.He has thrown down the rulers from their thronesbut lifted up the lowly.The hungry he has filled with good things;the rich he has sent away empty.  Luke 1:51-53
Clearly this is a different kingdom.  It is a topsyturvy kingdom where those at the top in human terms find themselves at the bottom.  Where those who have everything find themselves on the outside looking in.

As comforting at the opening verses are then and now, the later verses ask us to decide where we stand.  Are we--am I--with the powers that be in the kingdom of the flesh or am I with those who see a different reality filled with grace and life?  As Jesus said on many occasions, I can't have it both ways.  I can't hedge my bets.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

John the Baptist, Elijah, and me.

December sunrise in Missouri
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;but I tell you that Elijah has already come,and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”Then the disciples understoodthat he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.  Matthew 17:11-13
This exchange between Peter, James, and John and Jesus took place as they were coming down from the top of hill and the experience of what we have comes to know as the transfiguration.  Because of the clear implications of the transfiguration for the Messiahship of Jesus, the apostles ask if Elijah has come since the belief was he would return as a precursor to the Messiah and the restoration of the Davidic reign.  This is Jesus' reply.

John the Baptist is the precursor, the Elijah, for the reign of Jesus as the messiah.  Just as Matthew earlier recounts Jesus saying earlier in response to the apostles' recognition of him as the Messiah:
 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he* must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Matthew 16:21
so again Jesus reasserts that not only he as Messiah must follow a path of suffering, rejection and death but so too has John, his precursor.  This is just another way of making clear the path to eternal life announced by Jesus.  He and any true follower must take up his cross and then follow him on the same journey to death and resurrection.

I am called not just to be a follower of Jesus the Messiah but to be precursor, to announce the good news of his coming and the overwhelming love of the Divine One for each and all of us.  This is not an easy task because the world and its values are programmed to reject this message.  This rejection is not based on the idea of love of each for all but rather on the implications of actually living that way.  There is nothing wrong with saying that that we should love one another.  The problems comes with the acting on this notion in the day to day realities of our lives.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Do now...teach later.

Orchids in Daniel Stowe Gardens, Charlotte NC
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead,cleanse lepers, drive out demons.Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Matthew 10:6-8
These verses are from the beginning of the Mission Discourse in the gospel of Matthew.  Coming just after a listing of the 12 apostles (first time the term is used in Matthew), these verses set the tone for the mission activity of the followers of Jesus.  There are three things about this passage that strike me as important.

First, Jesus is extending his ministry of healing through commissioning his followers to do the same.  This is a clear indication that Jesus was not just a miracle worker sent to improve the lot of the bedraggled and dominated Jewish community.  He was seeking to create a newly formed and energized community (albeit within the Jewish community) which would rediscover the Law of the Divine One and lead lives formed by their faith.  The role of the Messiah was not simply personal but communal.  He was not just sent to save the community from domination but to change and form the community so that domination would be irrelevant.  To do this, his followers had to become empowered to work in this mission.  This is a key point that some contemporary ecclesiastical leaders would do well to remember.

Second, this passage restricts the mission to the Jewish community.  In fact, the half verse before this one explicitly excludes the Gentiles and Samaritans from this mission effort.  That is generally seen as an accurate description of the work of Jesus and by extension the mission work of the pre-resurrection community.  However, this should not be taken as prescriptive for us today.  The resurrected Jesus made clear that his message and mission should be extended to everyone and not restricted to our own group or tribe.

18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Matthew 28
Third, this commissioning by Jesus focuses entirely on actions, doing the merciful work of the Divine One.  Before his healing actions, at least in Matthew, Jesus is typically "moved with compassion."  Jesus tells his disciples to go and do likewise.  Later he will tell them to teach as well but the first priority is to do the work of healing and compassion because this legitimates the teaching that will come later.  Without this work of compassion, the teaching will ring hollow and be like the teaching of his contemporary religious leaders, who Jesus roundly condemns.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

God's will...exactly what does that mean?

Post Thanksgiving in Crocker Park, Westlake OH
21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’
24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on.  Matthew 7   The Message translation.
I hear a lot about God's will especially when bad or difficult things happen; things like death, illness, failure, disgrace.   It seems that God has a plan for each of us and in these particular cases that plan called for death, illness, failure, disgrace.  So just accept God's will and get on with life or whatever is left of it.  This is not the God's will that Jesus talked about over and over again in the scriptures.

In the passage above, Jesus says that doing things that seem miraculous or religiously exemplary is not what he is talking about.  "Doing what my Father wills" is all that counts.  You can see the problem with thinking that "God's will" is something that God causes to happen in our lives when Jesus says quite clearly that it is up to us to do God's will.  Further doing God's will is foundational.  Nothing else really matters...at all.
The Divine One does not have a plan for each of us but the Divine One does have a mission for each of us.  It is a mission that we are to seek to achieve in our lives in every way, every day, no matter what is happening to us or around us.  This mission is the will of the Divine One for us, not all those bad or difficult things that happen to us or around us.

And what is that will, that mission?  Here is how Jesus expressed it.

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  Matthew 22  The Message translation
So the next time you hear someone talk about God's will in that first way, remind yourself that the will of the Divine One is a mission statement for your life.  It is something you are called to enact in your life life with the grace of the Divine One and not something that the Divine One inflicts on us.  When we say in the Our Father, "thy will be done" remind yourself that we are praying that we enact the Divine One's great desire for us in our lives.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Desires of the flesh...There are a lot more than I think.

Bee on fading hydrangea
"...put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."  Romans 13:14
As we begin the new liturgical year, we are confronted with these rather stark words from St. Paul.  Taken out of literary and cultural context, these words can easily be understood as referring to sins that have to do with the body.  In fact, in the immediately preceding verse, Paul warns against "orgies and drunkenness... [and] promiscuity and licentiousness."  In my early religious formation, these were exactly the issues, sins that had to do with the body and especially sins of a sexual nature.  As an adolescent, these were really the only sins that concerned me.  My spiritual life consisted in sequentially failed attempts to avoid sexual thoughts and actions.  These and similar verses and the re-enforcement of teachers made it seem that abuse of alcohol and sexual sins were the key issues.  If one could avoid these, then one was or could lead a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

As a seventy five year old non-drinker, I would seem to be an exemplary Christian.  Somehow it doesn't seem right that the ravages of time and nature should be the key to living the life of a disciple of the Savior.  There must be more...and indeed there is.  That list of behaviors I quoted above actually contains two more:  "rivalry and jealousy."  Wait a minute.  Maybe jealousy but rivalry?  Two other translations use "quarreling" and "bickering."  How can these be sins on the same order as all those bodily ones, the real "sins of the flesh?"  There must be some other meaning lurking here.

"Sins of the flesh" or "desires of the flesh" is a term used often by Paul.  The key to understanding is the meaning of "flesh."  In the thought world of Paul, flesh referred to the totality of human nature.  We can hear a reminiscence of that in our use of "flesh and blood."  "Sins of the flesh" are "sins of human nature."  Left to our own devices, we desire to please ourselves, to advantage ourselves vis a vis others.  As Americans we typically see nothing wrong with competition.  In fact, to us it is the essence of achievement and effectiveness.  This is the way of the world, the way of human nature, the way of flesh.

Jesus preached a better way, the way of the Spirit.  Through the action of the Spirit, we are called to become new beings in Christ.  
"To put on Christ" is a way that Paul expressed this.  When we do this, we are called to live lives that are not oriented around the desires of human nature but the desires of the spirit.  In many places, Paul enumerates what those desires might be when he describes a life animated by the love at the core of the Christian calling.  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  1 Cor 13:4-7
We avoid the "desires of the flesh" by living a life animated by love.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A reflection on a reflection

Taliesin West
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.  Revelation 22:4-5
These words from the closing verses of the book of Revelation are a summary of the vocation of those who seek to follow Jesus and his teachings about a way of life.  In ancient times the forehead was the site of intelligence and insight.  The Third Eye is an example.  To have the Divine One's name imprinted on one's forehead meant that one belonged to the Divine One in a powerful and deep way.

The Divine One's "name" is another way of saying "identity."  To have the Divine One's very identity imprinted on the site of one's own identity and sight expressed an intertwining of identities.  It is another way of saying that the Divine One is in me and I am in the Divine One in a mysterious but powerful way.  That is the reality that Jesus taught when he spoke of the vine and the branches.

The Message, as it usually does, adds meaning in the way it translates that passage.
they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. 
This is a lovely and striking image.  As I gaze at the luminous face of the Divine One, that face is reflected in my forehead, my identity.  In a strange way, I begin to see as the Divine One sees and that changes everything.  As I go through my daily life, I reflect the Divine One in my interactions with the world and all those in it.  It can, of course, be otherwise.  If I do not gaze on the Divine face but the faces of my idols, I will reflect all the dysfunction, self-centeredness, and venality which they inflict on my life.

But where and how can I possibly see the Divine face?  It can only be in prayer, the prayer of presence and stillness.  If i start my day in meditation and contemplation as much as I am able and as much as the Divine One graces me, I am more able to carry that bright shining reality into my daily life.  I am called to be a reflection of the Divine One in every aspect of my life because it is only in such reflected reality that the Divine One is active in our world.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This world--my world--is passing away.

A glen in Mt. Hope Cemetery

"...know that the Kingdom of God is near.Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass awayuntil all these things have taken place.Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Luke 21:31-33
This quotation of Jesus comes as he is describing the signs of the end times with a key section on the destruction of Jerusalem.  That destruction by the Romans took place in 70 AD as the Roman siege of Jerusalem was completed with the destruction of the Temple which held a central place in the Jewish religion.  That was tantamount to the destruction of the world as the Jews knew and had known it.

So when Jesus says that this generation will see these end times, the easy explanation is to take it as referring to the destruction of the Temple, which indeed take place within the lifetime of the generation to which Jesus was speaking.  But what of us?  What does this passage mean to us, to me?

The consistent message of Jesus was that the Reign of the Divine One was near.  In fact, it was already here since it is within us.  The world will pass away and is constantly passing away.  Jesus cautioned against trying to predict the exact moment of the end times by reading the signs and symbols of the age.  He did this because it doesn't make any difference.  If the Reign of the Divine One is already here, so too must be the end times.  Where should my heart and soul be focused?  On the world that is passing away or the Reign of the Divine One that is within me and every other person and thing?

The answer is obvious.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

My Babylon will come to an end, sooner or later.

Tucson Botanical Garden
"And then they will see the Son of Mancoming in a cloud with power and great glory.But when these signs begin to happen,stand erect and raise your headsbecause your redemption is at hand.”  Luke 21:27-28
In this passage, Luke has Jesus talking about the destruction of Jerusalem with allusions to the end times of the world itself.  Everything that we rely on, understand, see and use will somehow pass away.  We will have great fear because we realize that with the world passing away, we are left to our own devices and those devices seem fundamentally inadequate for our life and well being.

This echoes the reading today from Revelation where the absolute destruction of Babylon is recounted and with it the coming of "one like the son of man" to take over the world.  When I read those words about Babylon, I am tempted to think of the earthly enemies of my own culture and society and that somehow the Divine One will prevail and hold my values victorious.  This would be a misreading since any earthly power is Babylon.  In a even more fundamental sense, my own existence in the world is my own personal Babylon:  my ego, my property, my knowledge, my reputation, my creations.  To the extent that I rely on those to provide me safety, security and justification, I am relying on powers that will pass away and leave me naked before the Divine One.  That will surely happen to me because that is death.

Sometimes I feel death is too present in my life.  As I experienced close friends and family members going through that final transition, I cannot help but think about my own transition.  As I see death and destruction throughout the world--along with much that is good as well--I think about the worlds of Jesus:  all this will come to an end.  And when that begins to happen to me, I am called to "stand erect and raise my head because my redemption is at hand."

Monday, November 21, 2016

I am to give it my all

Ice sculpture from Mom's birthday party
“I tell you truly,this poor widow put in more than all the rest;for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” Luke 21:3-4
It almost goes without saying that this little story has nothing to do with financial contributions to a church.  The macro context of the teachings of Jesus have nothing to do with financial contributions.  His teachings all describe a way of life that leads to life ever lasting.

The message here is simple but difficult.  I am called to live my whole life--every bit of it, nothing held back--in the way Jesus taught.  Whether in public or in private, in family relationships or friendships, in drudgery or creative activity, in sorrow or in joy, in prosperity or poverty, I am to live wholeheartedly the life of one who seeks and live in union with Jesus the Messiah of the Divine One.

The widow in the story commits everything she has and is.  Jesus asks no less of us, not in a financial sense but in an existential sense.  Another saying of Jesus sums this up with a rather stark saying:  Love your enemies!

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27-28
Most of the time, I think I might prefer to write a check, even a big one, rather than have to do that.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Today paradise...and every day!

Market in Tubac AZ
“Amen, I say to you,today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
Luke's is the only gospel to include these words which conclude the story about the two thieves crucified with Jesus.  One ridiculed Jesus as being unable to save himself and them while the second defends Jesus and asks to be included in his kingdom.  Jesus' words are directed to him but really to us.  Stories and words get included in the scripture because they have meaning for us, those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus even thousands of years later.

Too often I think about life after death as being something totally different from life now, and of course it is in many ways.  But there is a fundamental reality that carries on and through death.  My incorporation into the very being (body) of Jesus is that fundamental reality.

I think Jesus could have said, "today you are with me in Paradise."  Or he could have said, "today you are with me."  Or he could have said, "today you are in Paradise."  Or he could have said, "today you will be with me."  All these carry the same meaning.  What is Paradise anyway?  It is being with, incorporated into, Jesus in a way that changes our life today and continues on through and after our death.  "Being with Jesus" and "being in Paradise" are equivalent expressions.  They each define the other.

This is not something that is offered to some but to all.  The extent to which I accept that invitation and enter into that reality determines the extent of my relationship.  Prayer for me is best understood as being with the Divine One and Jesus the image of the Divine One in a way that deepens that relationship and changes my life.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

We are destined for everlasting life.

Apples at Hurd Orchard
"He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel...." 2 Timothy 1:9-10
Here is the revelation by Jesus Christ that changes everything.  We do not die even though we die.  But we do die.  In fact, we have to die in order to enter into that everlasting life within the life of the Divine One, the Trinity.  The Christian believes against any evidence to the contrary that life we experience now is both real and incomplete.  There is something else at work in us, something that we do not deserve or earn but which is freely given to us by the Divine One.

This underlying spirit of life is not given to just few but to all.  I have struggled my whole life--and will continue to I am sure--to understand or just to accept that and to live my life out of that belief.  In my best moments I can realize that this reality puts everything in life in a different perspective.  All the things I worry about--health, security, acceptance, knowledge--are not ultimate realities for me.   They are important but not ultimate.  In the end, we all die and are raised to eternal life.  Help me to live my life out of that reality.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

We are a nation of priests to rule over the earth...really?

Sunset light in Sabino Canyon out Tucson

“Worthy are you to receive the scrolland break open its seals,for you were slain and with your Blood you purchased for Godthose from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,and they will reign on earth.”  Revelation 5:9-10
The daily readings continue with passages from Revelation with its poetic and hard to understand verses.  The above is the song that those surrounding the throne of the Divine One sing to the slain Lamb who has "purchased" us from"every tribe and tongue, people and nation."  We have been transformed by the blood of Jesus into priests, a holy people.  Further we are called to reign on or over the earth.

One understanding of these verses can easily lead to a conflation of religion and political power with all tis toxicity.  Examples abound:  Medieval Christianity, Islam, Israel.  The framers of the United States constitution may not have been deeply religious but they clearly understood the dangers of combining religious belief with the coercive power of the state.  They sought to definitively separate these two realms.  There should be no intrusion by the state into the religious realm and at the same time there should be no intrusion of religion into the government realm.  No matter how problematic this division might be in practice, it is clearly one of the enduring commitments of contemporary, developed life.  What we gain from this separation is much more valuable than any losses.  When the coercive force of government is used to enforce religious belief or morals, we all lose something of highest valuable.

But, of course, when we look at the macro context of the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the other books of the New Testament, it is clear that this passage cannot refer to setting up a kingdom or government ordained somehow by the Divine One.  Jesus had strong words for the dysfunctions of government and society and of religion.  Whenever these moved away from concern for the marginalized, they were strongly rebuked:  institutions, their leaders and individual adherents.

We are called to be a holy people, made holy by the working of the spirit of the Divine One in us individually and together.  This life will, almost by necessity, be in conflict with the way of the world.  We are not called to take over the world and reform it through a divinely established secular state, but we are called to do the will of the Divine One, to love the Divine One and to love all people and things as we would like to be loved, as Jesus loved those he lived with.

We do live in a new reign that exists along side of, within, underneath and all around the world as we experience it.  It is that new reign that leads to life eternal which we experience fully in our final and complete union with the Divine One.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Jesus talks like a grandmother

Sonoran Desert outside Tucson
"I tell you,to everyone who has, more will be given,but from the one who has not,even what he has will be taken away."  Luke 19:26
Sometimes grandmothers say enigmatic things with a confident smile that she and everyone who counts knows what she means.  It often leaves grandchildren in the dark, afraid to ask "what do you mean?"  Left to their own devices, they may talk among themselves about it, perhaps ask whichever parent sprang from that oracle, or just as likely forget trying to figure out exactly what it means even though it will be repeated down through the generations.  This saying of Jesus reminds me of that situation.

This saying comes after the parable about the servants who were given gold coins while their master is away.  he tells them to trade and multiply.  When he returns, two who did multiply the amount are rewarded while the one who simply kept his one coin safe lost that coin to the one who had increased his coins the most.  In that context, what is the point of this, especially for me in the here and now?

Like many of Grandma's sayings, there is something left out.  If I insert some words, does it make more sense?  "I tell you, to everyone to has [committed to living the way of grace], more [grace] will be given, but from the one who has not [committed to living the way of grace], even what [grace] he has will be taken way."  The thing about the servants who increased their amounts is that they did it through "trade."  In other words, they took risks with the investment and it worked.  The one who tried to play it safe and took no risks lost everything.

Here is another translation from The Message:

  “He said, ‘That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.'"
The message is uncomfortably clear for me.  If I just try to hang on to the faith and grace I think I have, I lose.  If I place everything at risk in my day to day life in whatever way is possible for me, I win.

I will leave the discussion of Jesus' apparent view that this is a zero sum game to another time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Can I hear, really hear, the Divine One's judgement

Sunset outside Boulder CO
“I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.  Revelation 3:15-17

These are the words the Divine One ordered said to the church in Laodicea but they could just as easily be said to us, to me, today.  I live a comfortable, stable, organized life insulated from the ups and downs of life by an above average affluence.  I really don't see myself as "rich" but that, of course, is a relative term.  To most people, I am; to a few, I am not.  But regardless, my life moves along within fairly narrow band:  nothing too good and nothing too bad.  Of course, there are times when events intrude.  These are mostly threatening things like the death of someone close.  Such are threatening because it reminds me that I am never far away from that very same event.

It is hard for me to see that I am "a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless."  I see people like that and they are very different from me and my protected, insulated life.  But then that is not the point.  There is the reality of the apparent world in which I live and then there is the fundamental reality of my life as a child of the Divine One.  How many times did Jesus say "If you have ears, listen."  "If you have eyes, see."  Just pay attention and the world changes.  You see your deepest reality and that is the reality in which and out of which I am calling you to live.

What I have in life--things, resources, relationships, property, knowledge, memory, creativity, understanding--do not provide the ultimate meaning of life.  All those simply define the context of my life.  In this context, I am called to do the Divine One's will:  to love the Divine One with all my heart and to love others--all others--as I would love myself.  Jesus said it simply, "Love one another as I have loved."

If I can do this, I will have "gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire," clothes designed in Heaven," and "medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see."

Monday, November 14, 2016

My first love...lost.

Mt. Hope Cemetery on fall afternoon
Yet I hold this against you:you have lost the love you had at first.Realize how far you have fallen.Repent, and do the works you did at first.Otherwise, I will come to youand remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.  Rev 2:4-5
Revelations is a tricky read.  It is filled with symbolism, allegory and hyperbole.  It uses symbolic systems which are not immediately understandable to 21st century ears and minds.  Yet, this passage from a prophecy to be made to the church at Ephesus grabbed me.  It is not symbolic and seems to speak directly to me.

This criticism follows several verses in which the Ephesians are praised for their astuteness in recognizing false prophets and for keeping the content of their Christian faith pure from the pagan influences within which they lived.  This is high praise indeed given the important role that Ephesus played in Roman world.  It was second only to Rome in terms of trade and political influence.  It was the center of the Emperor Cult and was the location of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  It was, in short, not a friendly environment for Christianity and yet the church there is praised for maintaining its integrity and not falling back into its earlier beliefs.

And yet, the church is criticized in quite a fundamental way.  It had "lost the love" it had at first.  The love not just of the Divine One, not just of Jesus, but for each other had somehow weakened and was no longer a major characteristic of the Ephesian church.  It was as though everyone was following the rules.  Everyone was careful and correct in their beliefs and religious practice.  But the spirit of love had seeped away and no longer animated their individual and common life.  Apparently they were, in fact, sliding back into a reliance on law rather than the spirit.  If that kept up, they would soon be no different than the "powers that be" against whom Jesus preached and who ultimately murdered him.

However the church at Ephesus received these words and however it responded is not the point.  These words are in the scriptures because they have relevance to me today.  To what extent have I become a proper and correct Christian without the spirit of love that animated my first glimmers of faith?  To what extent has Christianity in America become overly concerned with proper behavior, following rules, and correctness and forgotten the admonition of Jesus to "love one another as I have loved you?"  Have we become afraid of this spirit of love and feel safer with being proper and correct?

The path to reclaiming that spirit of love runs through prayer and not the rote prayers of petition or praise but the prayer of quite meditation.  As difficult as it might seem, the emptiness of meditative prayer will fill us with the spirit and love of the Divine One.  That fullness will bloom in our lives as fruit appears in an orchard:  naturally and timely without any concern for correctness or propriety.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Context is important...actually essential

Autumn afternoon in Mt. Hope Cemetery
In fact, when we were with you,we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work,neither should that one eat.We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in adisorderly way,by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.  2 Thessalonians 3:10-11

The first verse in this quotation from Paul has, from time to time, been used to foster a political position in the United States about "welfare."  In fact, some translations use the term "freeloaders" which further encourages this.  Sometimes this expression gets reduced to "If you don't work, you don't eat."  Unfortunately it is a short step to excoriating groups of people who are "welfare recipients," food stamp users, "welfare mothers" and others who are seen as freeloading on the hard work of the rest of us.  This verse has been used to support government action to deny or reduce financial support to those who do not work as an expression of God's will as discovered in the Christian scriptures.

Understanding this verse shows how important it is to look at the context of the quotation.  First and perhaps most important, we need to look at the global context.  Early Christianity as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles was clearly an egalitarian if not socialist society.  We know that at least in Jerusalem Christian community, the one closest in space and time to Jesus and his ministry, property was held in common and used for the good of all members of the community.  Whether one was rich or poor, working or not, did not seem to make any difference.  It is fair to note that the Jerusalem community expected the imminent return of Jesus and the conclusion of the world.  This belief changed the way they looked at everything including possessions and wealth.  Still, there is a principle embedded in that belief.

And that principle is certainly consistent with the life and teaching of Jesus.  He described a way of life that included all, rich and poor, working or not.  He extended healing to all.  His Sermon on the Mount in Luke clearly focuses on those who have been left out and excluded.  They are the ones who will be enriched by faith in the Divine One.  His consistent message opposed the unequal social and economic arrangements in Jerusalem and was probably the reason for his public murder and disgrace.

With all this, how are we to understand these lines from Paul?  "If you don't work, you don't eat" just does seem consistent with that global context.  There are two things to remember.  First, the Greek word translated above as "unwilling" actually more properly means "did not desire."  Frankly our modern usage in the United States tends to use "unwilling" as suggesting that there is work but one is unwilling to do that work.  "Not desiring to work" suggests a more general notion that regardless of the work available, one is just not interested in it.  Perhaps in that case there is reason to suggest such a person not be supported by the work of others.

Second and more important, Paul is addressing issues within the church in Thessalonica and in this case the issue is the amount of gossip generated by busybodies who spend their time sticking their noses into other people's business instead of working.  His suggestion is simply to make clear to those people that choosing not to work in order to devote your time to disrupting the community will not be tolerated.  It is a very pragmatic solution to a real problem.

It is always dangerous to "cherry pick" verses from scripture and then apply them to contemporary life.  It is important to understand both the global and more particular context before we try to apply them to our life.  In this case, the relevant application is that I should focus on my work and avoid useless and destructive gossip about others.  It has nothing to do with assisting those who cannot provide for themselves and their families

Friday, November 11, 2016

What are the vultures in my life?

Fall morning in Cheat Lake, WV

They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?”  He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:37
This verse comes at the very end of Chapter 17 of Luke's gospel.  Jesus has been sharing several sayings and stories trying to help his disciples get clarity about his message and his mission.  This final section recalls the stories of the Great Flood and the destruction of Sodom as cautionary tales for his followers.  Life goes on as it usually does until a cataclysmic event happens that destroys everything.  He looks froward to the disclosure of "The Son of Man," a title drawn from the Book of Ezekiel which Jesus uses for himself.  That disclosure will be as destructive as the two historic events and it will be just as selective.  Those who hear his message but fail to change their lives will be destroyed and those who listen and change will be left with life everlasting.  It is a stark choice and Jesus uses stark language.

Just before the verse quoted, Jesus voices once again a message of the Great Reversal:  "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it."  Those who seem so full of life with possessions (even more than they need), achievements, wealth, power, influence, knowledge, reputation are the ones who run the risk of losing everything even their very life if they become so focused that they lose sight of the reality of the family of the Divine One within them and within everyone and everything.

As we have been reading Luke during this Ordinary Time, we have been reading about Jesus journey toward Jerusalem and the reality that awaited him there.  He had a strong sense that his life of preaching and living the law of love would bring him into conflict with the "powers that be" in that urban center and further that the conflict would likely result in his death.  Throughout this journey, he was constantly choosing his path which meant that he was constantly choosing to focus not on his life but on the deeper reality of his membership in the family of the Divine One and the implications of that reality for his day to day living.  He is asking his followers and me to make the same choice today and every day.  He is asking me to live as though my divine son-ship (adoptive though it may be) is the only reality of my life.  In short, to live the life of love that 2 John speaks of in today first reading:
But now, Lady, I ask you,
not as though I were writing a new commandment
but the one we have had from the beginning:
let us love one another.
For this is love, that we walk according to his commandments;
this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning,
in which you should walk.
 When the disciples ask him where all this is going to happen, he answers with this enigmatic saying about vultures and dead bodies.  The exact meaning is certainly unambiguously clear but a meaning that has significance to me does.  Where will this death occur in my own life?  His answer is simple:  Look those areas of my life where I seek to preserve my safety and security and I will see vultures circling this refusal to lose my life in order to gain true and eternal life.  Look to those areas where I seek to preserve my comfort.  Look to those areas where I seek the approval of others.  Look to those areas where I crave success.  Those are the areas where the vultures are circling what will become sooner or later a lifeless carcass.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It is already here!

Mt. Hope Cemetery on election day 2016
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you....The arrival of the Son of Man is not something you go out to see. He simply comes."  Luke 17:20-21; 24  The Message
How tempting it is for me to think of the work of the Divine One as something that gets done "out there."  Somehow the public arena, the world of affairs, becomes the focus of living a Christian life.  These words of Jesus are a corrective.  It is still true that even these words, however, can hide a fundamental reality.

While "God's Kingdom" had a definitive meaning to those people whose social and political lives were structured by kings and their spheres of influence, that is thankfully no long how most of us live.  In the world of the followers of Jesus, it was a given that they would be part of a kingdom.  The changing reality was the identity of the king.  One kingdom after another had taken control of the land that Jesus walked.  Most were brutal conquerors but not all.  The message of Jesus was that all human kings were replaced with the kingship of the Divine One who had sent Jesus into the world to announce that very reality.  That message certainly did not mean that there would not be human kings.  Jesus did not come to establish some kind of theocracy to replace human organization and governance of social life.  Jesus came to announce a deeper, more fundamental reality.

To people whose reality does not include kings and their kingdoms, this language can distort the message.  Think of it this way:  Jesus came to announce that the Divine One had decided to extend the divine family to include all of us and all that is.  Families are social organizations that exist at a deeper level than political arrangements.  They continue regardless of the political and social arrangements of our public life.  (Admittedly some political and social arrangements are more or less conducive to this dynamic.)

We are not called to establish a divine kingdom.  We are called to recognize our membership in the family of the Divine One and to live out those values in the day to day life we lead.  Without that fundamental understanding any kind of political involvement of people of faith simply becomes co-opted by the "powers that be" in their agendas.  By attending to this deeper reality and identity, The Son of Man "simply comes."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Think of others first? How odd.

San Xavier del Bac
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others.  Philippians 2:3-4
This verse capsulizes the problem and opportunity for contemporary Christianity in America.  No one can doubt that the earliest Christian communities as described in the New Testament took this message to heart.  There was a fundamental and defining egalitarian spirit in those communities.  Maximizing of self interest was seen as not only detrimental to the way of Christ but unalterably opposed to it.

Contemporary American Christianity, for the most part, enjoys a position as integral element in contemporary culture.  Indeed, it often seeks to express this in political activism by allying itself with existing political parties and movements.  In doing so, it run the risk of being co-opted by these political forces for their own purposes and goals.  As a result, contemporary Christianity can lose its egalitarian soul while fighting for specific "ethical issues."  Marriage equality and attitudes toward LGBT people are examples.  It becomes very difficult for such Christianity to stand apart from a culture that prizes individual freedom and economic achievement over a more communitarian concern for others, especially those who "are not like us."

Even within the modern cacophony of America's media drenched culture, however, it is possible to find examples of individuals who took this scripture to heart and made it a guiding principle of their lives and the work of organization they led.  Every time I go into a Wegman's, I see the words of Bob Wegman who took a single grocery store founded by his father and uncle and turned into a multi-store chain that is recognized as the top food retailer in the nation.

"Never think of yourself; always help others.”

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Divine One is in all, even me.

Fall colors at home
But you spare all things, because they are yours,O LORD and lover of souls,for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Wisdom 11:26-12:1
The Book of Wisdom was written in the first century BCE, most likely in Alexandria.  It was composed in Greek and is included in the Septuagint canon and thus included as scriptural by Roman Catholics but not Protestants.  It was written to the Jews in Egypt who were experiencing  persecution, often at the hands of other Jews who had succumbed to the Emperor worship imposed by Caesar Augustus.  In this post-exilic community, liturgical practices are less important to righteousness than righteous living.

The sentiment of this passage can be found in all the major religious traditions.  The Divine One is the source of all that is, all that has been, and all that will ever be.  The Divine One is the "lover of souls" and thus is the lover of my soul.  This is the reality of my existence and yet it is hard to accept and hard to keep in mind in the midst of the flurry of daily activities, even for a happily retired person like me.

I do not have to become someone other than who I am.