Sunday, July 23, 2017

Come to me... and I will give you rest




When my first child was born, I as a young father, was overwhelmed by how much I loved him. I couldn't get over how strong my desire was to love and care for him. In those initial months and years, I was overcome with the strength of my feelings for him. Then, as we approached the birth of our second child, I was uneasy about my feelings: “how could I possible love her (it was to be a girl), as much as I loved him; there’s no way, I thought, I could have all those strong feelings? However, after she was born, I realized that my feelings for her were the same…I learned that I did not have to divide my love or love one less than the other. It was just there, already “packaged” for me in my daughter as it was in my son. Today, I reflect on those early years of parenting, in which I was only a hare’s breath from being a child myself and wonder about how much greater is the love of God.

In our Gospel (Matthew 11:25-30), Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples as a father or protectorate might: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
Our children can provide a unique perspective on our relationship with God. Over the years, my children would ask for many things. All requests were heard and I know all their requests were answered. In some cases they received what they asked for; in others they did not. Many times my alternate suggestion, which they resisted at the time, tuned out to be even better than what they had originally requested. I don’t remember ever not listening to their request, despite how outlandish in some cases, I thought they were. I don’t remember not answering them one way or another. Even when they were denied I listened and our love for each other never suffered despite some difficult encounters.

If you then...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hidden Treasures


Interestingly, the emphasis in this reading (Matthew 13:44-52) is not in the finding of the treasure or the pearl in the field, but in what the person does when he finds it: “he went and sells all he has and buys the field.” Taking hold of the treasure that God wants to give us involves our total commitment and surrender of our entire being. We cannot search for the meaning of our life in the kingdom with just a bit of ourselves; it’s all or nothing. Now that sounds rather ominous to us: Are we willing to give it our all to know God, to know him as a presence in our lives in all that we are and all that we do? It’s asking a lot but then the payoff is greater than anything we hold dear.

We can only imagine the joy that the man who finds the treasure in the field experiences, that causes him to sell all his earthly possessions. The joy in knowing the love of God in our lives that emanates from knowing His presence loosens the grip that our earthly attachments have and enables us to reset our life’s priorities. Our lives will be forever changed beyond anything we could have foreseen, or managed by our will alone.

The first story teaches us that we acquire God’s hidden treasure, not by our effort or plan. No, it’s a quiet thing that reveals the treasure when we are prepared to recognize it even without our searching for it. We seem to unexpectedly trip over the treasure that we realize is what we wanted all along.

In contrast, the merchant who finds the pearl of great value was already searching for pearls and while the Gospel does not explicitly say so, we assume that he must have possessed a collection of pearls. The knowledge he acquired as a collector, enabled him to recognize the prized pearl. Isn’t this what we do, we prepare for the big decisions of life by taking small steps outside our comfort zone and place our trust in our judgment.

Yet this is as hard for us as it was for the merchant. Look at all the time and energy the merchant invested in learning about and collecting pearls. Now he must let them go in order to trade them for something more important. It wasn’t as if his original collection was of no value; it’s just that the prized treasure was far more valuable. We have many things in our life that are inherently good and bring us pleasure…family, career, prized possessions. But even these good things can become distractions. The merchant, although he has found many good pearls, remains “hungry” for the one of great value. For us we ask are we willing to let go of what is good and trade it for what is better…God’s will for us?

Adapted from Taizé, http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2011-04-01

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Treasures


It’s the cutting edge of making choices,
splitting what you choose from what you don’t choose.
And making your choices will set you apart
from others, even friends and family.


 This is the work of becoming your own self.
When your choices upset those around you
it may be because you’re being foolish.
But it may be because you’re making your choices
instead of letting them. It will be like this.
Abandon that owned self, and find your own self.

Listen deeply to God.
Let God alone lead you.
Make yourself available to God
as an instrument of righteousness,
and know that even as you let go of your life
you receive life.

-Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Jesus moves on, according to Matthew (Matthew 13:24-43
), from stories of God-the-Mad-Farmer who sows seed everywhere and refuses to weed the crops, to stories of choices that must be made, stories in which it is not God, but we who must do the choosing, between small seeds that can grow God-crops in the world, and all the welter of things the world wants us to choose instead.

The grain of mustard seed – the smallest of all the seeds, can grow in a weedy patch to become the largest of all the bushes and offer shelter to many birds. A small amount of yeast can grow flour into bread enough to feed a town. The priceless pearl, a small thing among fakes and baubles, has value far greater than everything we own. A great treasure, unexpectedly found in the field of your life, will require everything you have. And the full fishnet, teeming with life and trash, will best be sorted on shore, so bring it all in.

Each of these tales requires everything. And each requires just one thing. The price for the treasures of God is everything we have. And the prize, the treasure, is only one thing, one thing that must be seen and named and taken and prized. And none of them would get you a round of applause in your choosing. And most of them would get you some rolled eyes, or some catcalls, or some Damn Fool! remark, maybe muttered, maybe said to your face.

After all, who are the likes of you and I to be purchasing pearls? To be selling the farm for something you found in a field? To be wasting all your yeast to raise three barrelsful of flour into bread for strangers? To be planting mustard instead of fig trees or olive groves? And as for that fishnet, any fool can see the old boots, the broken bottles, the sea-bottom trash in that haul – throw it back, cast your net again!

What’s precious, say all Jesus’ stories, is likely to be judged as junk by most folks, and likely to require a lot from you and me. All the stories say – Make yourself available to God


(Adapted from “Treasures,” The Bite in the Apple by Nancy Rockwell, July 19, 2014

 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Do You KNow What You Want


We can relate to Jesus’ reaction to the crowd in Matthew 11:25-30 as well as in the preceding verses, as he compares his followers to a bunch of children who cannot make up their minds: For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” 

Today, Jesus may well have asked “do you people really know what you want? What else will it take for me to help you understand how much God loves you?” It is difficult to exactly pin down the emotions Jesus is expressing but to me they reveal human emotions to which we can all relate. It helps us to know that the Incarnate, whose Word we follow and live by, can experience these human emotions that are so much a part of our lives.  

We all view the world through our own prism or lens which are largely influenced by the world around us. Two people can hear an identical message and have different interpretations. This is part of our human nature. But sometimes we consciously create our own reality that serve our desired expectations and “wishes” based on what we want to hear. In most cases, our perception is unconscious and consistent with our view of reality. When we attempt to “re-write” or “re-create” our own “script” in the face of reality, we work at cross-purposes with God’s will. Philosophers tell us that “wishing” is more a fanciful dream, not based in reality while “hope,” has a factual basis based on reasonable expectations and possibilities.

“What do you want? Jesus seems to ask the crowd. Except he knows they won’t answer because they can’t, because what they want is to grow, to evolve, to improve and more. And yet paradoxically, they want to be left alone, untouched and unchanged. Why? Because to change is to lose something, and so to change can feel a little like dying to oneself. And while the followers of Jesus wanted to grow, they preferred the comfort of the status quo. Change, delves into the unknown. Change is not certain. Change implies risk and even potential loss...which is why we often stay in failed jobs and relationships.
 

Thomas Keating tells us “that there are all kinds of ways in which God speaks to us—through our thoughts and/or anyone of our faculties. But keep in mind that God’s first language is silence. We must listen. We must be willing to listen. The Spirit speaks to our conscience through scripture and through the events of daily life. Reflection on those two sources of personal encounter and the dismantling of the emotional programming of the past, prepare the psyche to listen at a more refined level of attention.”

 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Whoever Recieves You Receives Me




Last Sunday we had an opportunity to celebrate Father’s Day with my son and his family. The day was made more special because it gave us an opportunity to celebrate several pivotal events in our lives: 3 recent birthdays an Eagle Scout award and a high school graduation. It was a great day with lots of fun and laughter and good food. As opposed to earlier years when the youngsters’ attention span and interests were limited, and usually became restless after having spent the requisite amount of time with the adults. This Sunday they remained with us throughout the day. It became apparent that they were interested in what we all had to say. It was no longer obligatory for the youngsters to “hang around;” they enjoyed themselves as they listened and contributed. When I wondered, did we suddenly become relevant?

I believe that I became a better parent when I became a grandfather. As a grandparent I am more a spectator than an active participant and now have the luxury of being able to sit back and watch and listen to how their stories all play out. Sure, I know some of the challenges my son and daughter-in-law face in rearing children are the same as the ones we and our parents faced, but the world and our culture are more complex today and the pressures on parents to manage these challenges are greater than the ones we faced. As a “spectator” I am in awe as to how our son and daughter-in-law work through the endless requests and issues that pop up on a daily, if not hourly basis, and I ask myself, “when did he learn to do all that; where did he pick up all the skills to handle this? I don’t think I would have done it as well.” I have learned so much about parenting in watching them and while it makes me feel good to think that there’s probably some imprinting going on, they are far ahead of where I was then.



Life, wrote Kierkegaard, can only be understood backwards. But it must be lived forwards.

Along those lines few years ago I saw an interview with actor Michael Douglas on a late night talk show. He spoke of his relationship with his father, Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas; I’ll paraphrase the story he told.

Dad called me the other night. He said, "Michael, I was watching myself in an old movie earlier tonight and I didn't remember making it." "Well, Dad, you made over 70 movies and you are 94. Don't be so rough on yourself." "No, Michael, you didn't let me finish. I realized halfway through that I was watching one of your movies."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if certain aspects of our lives and ways of relating to others were all but indistinguishable from Jesus and if they reminded others of Jesus, just a little bit? We seek, every day, in every place, to be emissaries of Jesus: representatives of Jesus who welcome others as if they were Jesus and who relate to others in the spirit of Jesus?
Our task (Matthew 10:37-42) is to consciously attend to the Christ in everyone. Christ in the stranger. Christ in the enemy. Christ in the friend. Christ in the spouse. Christ in our sibling. Christ in the politician who makes our blood boil. Christ in the one who believes differently than I do.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.


Matthew's community was experiencing serious persecution. It would be decades before Christians were even called Christians and would be persecuted solely "for the name." Nevertheless, Matthew's followers were getting into trouble for the same reasons that Jesus and Paul did.
 

Sarah Dylan Breuer, an Episcopal priest from Cambridge MA, conducts a workshop called "Speaking the Truth in Love: Practical Skills for Reconcilers." She believes that there are essential skills that are foundational and vital to the process of reconciliation. Matthew’s (Mathew 10:26-33) Gospel selected for this Sunday calls to mind those skills.  

The first skill requires that we keep an open mind, listen and be as fully “present” to the process of sincerely trying to understand one another. The second skill is to be in touch as much as possible with God's love. We want to really know and experience God’s extravagant and unconditional love. 

Matthew’s community deferred to God’s infinite love and wisdom and not to the ruling powers of the time. They were taught and believed that God gave every human being the ability to make their own decisions. Each had gifts to offer the community and they didn't need to ask anyone's permission to do so. As such, they built pockets of communities within their overarching Christian community, based on Christ’s teaching, into a radical new order and therefore threatened to undermine the order of the Empire.  

And so their neighbors, their friends, and sometimes their own family turned them in, hauling them before governors as agitators to be flogged, or worse. While we can only imagine, being betrayed by those so close to us would wound as deeply as any physical punishment.  

The one thing that Matthew wants his followers to remember isn't something they're supposed to say or some particularly compelling case that they should make to their accusers or the authorities. It, more than anything else, is that they need to embrace how very much God loves them. This is good advice for anyone living in Christ's reconciling ministry.   

Sooner or later, if you're a part of that ministry, you'll find yourself making contact with very deep wounds, and wounded people. And all wounded creatures are liable to respond to any overture out of pain, confusion, and anger. A person who comes back at them with more of the same is only going to speed up the spiral of violence, with disastrous results. What we want to do in a situation like that is to be present and loving; that's the only way to disrupt that spiral of violence. That's very hard to do, though, when someone is right in front of you either threatening violence or saying something that would normally provoke a "fight or flight" response…something that's sure to happen eventually if you're trying to be an agent of healing.   

In a situation like that, we're understandably tempted to withdraw -- to "check out" mentally if not remove ourselves physically…or to strike back, or both. I think part of what makes those temptations particularly strong is that contact with another person's deep wounds often reminds us of our own wounds and vulnerabilities that we've tried to forget. That's why reconcilers must remind themselves moment to moment to stay grounded in God's love. If we remember how much and how unconditionally God loves and values us, we won't be thrown off-center by anyone's attempts to make us feel as worthless. Rely on the power of God's love to heal, and we won't have to flee from things that remind us of our own vulnerabilities and wounds. Recall what God's love looks like in the flesh…in the person of Jesus, and we will know how to respond. Be in touch with that love at the very core of our being, and we will be able to respond with authenticity and with love no matter what we face.  

Don't worry about what to say. There's a reason Martin Luther King called the result of nonviolent resistance "beloved community." It is the community of those who know, who proclaim, and who embody the Good News that love is the fundamental, powerful, and inevitable Word through which the universe was made and lives, and for which it is destined. We have seen the Word made flesh in Jesus, and we see it embodied in and among us. That can't be stopped by violence. Bringing violence to bear against God's love only creates more opportunities for God's love to disrupt the spiral of violence and build a beloved community.

Thanks be to God!
 

Adapted from SarahLaughed.net, by Sarah Dylan Breuer, an Episcopal priest who was elected to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church by General Convention in 2009.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

You Are What You Eat


 


Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…John 6:51-58

Whoa!!! Imagine hearing this for the first time. Imagine hearing this without any previous experience of the Eucharist.  We know that some in the crowd took such offense at Jesus that they stopped following him because he said these things—Jesus doesn’t soften or temper his words in the least. There’s not even a hint that he might be speaking poetically or metaphorically. He’s not quick to change the subject either.For us, these words may have lost their offensiveness. But, Jesus didn’t drop these rhetorical bombshells so that they’d be easily forgotten. It’s clear that He was stirring the pot on purpose. He wanted to say things that challenged people 

Imagine you are attending church for the first time as this passage is read!

Imagine hearing Jesus say these words. How would you react??? 

Once again John relies on mystical words to speak to each of us in that place in which the personal images of reality and life itself reside. John invites us to close our eyes and picture what being in a relationship with God really means. Note, I use the word “picture,” not “understand,” in an effort to prompt our imagination and senses to feel the words as a palpable, sensory experience, and know what being in a relationship with God actually feels like, tastes like, and smells like. This is at the essence of our being and what we mean when we say “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God fully shared our humanity through Jesus as we through Jesus, fully share in God’s divinity. Anything less than that relationship with God would be reduced to mere acquaintance. 

St. Augustine used the phrase “visible words” to help explain the connection between the sacraments and our daily lives. Baptism and Communion are visible, physical manifestations of our faith. In other words, the sacraments are the embodiment of the gospel in the material form of water, bread, and wine. They serve as the physical presence of what we have heard and believe because we are physical creatures. And so the gospel is proclaimed so that we may hear it, and this very same gospel comes alive to us in the Eucharist as we taste, touch and feel it with our hands, our mouths and our bodies.