Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Personal Pentecost

May 15, 2016 –– Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1–11 / Romans 8:8–17 / John 14:15–16, 23b–26
A Personal Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday. All around the world Christians look back to that day in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and fulfilled the promise of Jesus. Each week we “confess” I believe in the Holy Spirit… So here is a question for us on this Pentecost Sunday: What are we expecting to happen today because we believe Jesus has given us his Spirit?

Think for a moment about the things Jesus said the Spirit would do. Jesus will no longer be with his disciples to give them guidance, so the Spirit is the Counselor. Jesus will no longer be with his disciples to teach them, so Jesus says the Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus himself, and the effect of the Spirit is that Jesus is made known and glorified in and through his followers.

Before Pentecost the Spirit had not yet come as promised. The disciples did not have the power to stand firm. When the soldiers came to the garden to arrest Jesus, the disciples had flushed like a covey of quail. Peter did follow “at a distance.” But in the courtyard, when he was accused by a servant girl, Peter cursed and denied that he knew Jesus at all. Then, after Jesus' death and resurrection, the disciples locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. Were these men really the ones Jesus said would do greater works than these in my Name?

Then it happened….. a noise like a strong driving wind…. what seemed to be tongues of fire resting on each of them…. speaking in different tongues. It so affected them that onlookers thought they were drunk. Now here is a big question: Do we believe the Holy Spirit wants to do the same thing in us? I do not mean a copying of all the particular phenomena and events. Rather, do you believe the Holy Spirit so wants to invade and control your life that unbelievers will think something is “wonderfully different” about you?

One brief reading of this Pentecost story is enough to show that these were changed men. The Spirit had come in power and it was evident. Where before things were not fitting together, now these so-called ignorant and unlearned men have the power to understand. They remember the Old Testament teachings and the words of Jesus, and see them come together in the death and resurrection so that their lives are totally transformed.

A holy boldness entered the lives of people who had previously been characterized by timidity and downright fear. Peter, who would not own up to a slave girl that he was a follower of Jesus, is now able to give a contextual teaching of who Jesus was in terms of Old Testament prophecy.  And Peter is bold––even confrontational––as he proclaims the resurrection of Jesus while at the same time accusing his hearers of being the ones responsible for crucifying God's Messiah. This is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…

So each week we confess, I believe in the Holy Spirit…. We would likely say we believe that the Spirit of God is powerful. It was the Spirit who brooded over the earth in creation. It was the Spirit who was at work raising Jesus from the dead. So why shouldn't the people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells understand the plan of salvation and have boldness declaring it? Or for that matter, why shouldn't people who have the Spirit living in them almost routinely be a channel of healing and other miraculous signs? The Spirit did that through Jesus, and––because of Pentecost––did the same through those early followers.

I assume most of us believe that, at least “conceptually.” We believe the Holy Spirit indwells Christian believers. But that should only heighten a crucial question for us: Where is the boldness among so many who say they are Christians to give public witness to their faith? Where is the miraculous in our fight against sin? How often is world looking at us in the Church and saying, “Wow, what is it with you?!” You see, what we believe about the Holy Spirit is not only found in our doctrines. It is fleshed out in our day to day lives. Life in the Spirit means we open ourselves to be invaded, as it were, by an outside entity––to allow someone else to come in and control our lives.
I think part of the problem is that much of our faith formation does not make it clear and does not emphasize that Christians are people who give their lives away. Maybe we try too hard to make things easy and inviting. Jesus did not do that. He told people to count the cost. Paul told the Romans that life is either controlled by the “flesh” (the temporal, that is passing away), or the Spirit (who is the very power and holiness and life of God). The “world, the flesh and the devil” tell us lies; we are tempted to be seduced by giving our priorities––our hearts––to things that have no lasting value. God wants to give us his Spirit––the very source of life and love.

There is one huge question for each of us on this Pentecost Sunday: Have you had a personal Pentecost? Have you come into a living relationship with Jesus through a conscious indwelling of the Holy Spirit? This is more than confessing right things about the Holy Spirit; it’s about his living presence and control in your life. Jesus wants to transform our lives.

God is doing some wonderful things in our congregation; the life of the Spirit is evident. We have much to be thankful for. But periodically we need to examine ourselves, and Pentecost is a great time for that. I freely confess to you that I regularly need to face whether the Spirit is free and powerful in my own life, or if practices and patterns have crept in that grieve and quench the life of the Spirit. On this Pentecost Sunday we are reminded that we are here to be changed so that our lives are becoming more and more like Jesus. Jesus calls us to an indwelling intimacy of his Spirit within each one of us. Jesus wants us to be his witnesses so other people will give their lives away to him. You see, Pentecost is not only something that happened in the history of the church almost 2000 years ago. Pentecost is what Jesus wants to do in us.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

In Christ

Thursday: May 5, 2016 –– The Ascension of the Lord

In Christ

Ever since the first disobedience the full glory of God and his truth has been veiled from our world. While the glory of God is certainly present in all of Creation’s splendor, human perception is blurred, distorted, and sometimes blind. There is a “flat” way of looking at what we think is reality.

So, physically, if I am “here” I cannot be “there”. There is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) mentality. This is so dominant that it continues to infect us as Christians. While giving assent to many orthodox details, it seems that too many people do not “connect the dots.”

So, for example, we affirm that Jesus is bodily present in the Eucharist. Jesus is here! Yet just a few minutes before the Real Presence happens on our altars, we affirm in the Creed that Jesus ascended into heaven  and is seated at the right hand of the Father. And even as Jesus is both on the altar at our parish and seated at the right hand of the Father, he is also present in countless other churches around the world. There is a mystery here. It goes beyond our “flat” understanding of the world. Jesus is in heaven. Jesus is here.

On this Solemn Feast of the Ascension we rejoice and celebrate that Jesus bodily ascended into heaven. Why? How is the Ascension really significant for us?

There is a little phrase that occurs especially in St Paul’s letters again and again. It is simply in Christ (or in him). This little word in is pregnant with meaning. In Christ is explosive, and it’s our identity.

Jesus goes ahead of those who follow him and in every way he leads and opens and achieves for us what we could never do for ourselves. It starts in Baptism. Jesus was baptized for us, and when we are baptized we start a journey of faith that is based in Christ.

When we are in Christ, all that Jesus does becomes the paradigm of our personal salvation. When Jesus lives obedience to the Father…. when Jesus suffers…. when Jesus dies… when Jesus rises from the dead…. it is all for us. When we follow him, he leads us into and through each of those things, and they are our salvation. The Ascension tells us that what Jesus did up to and through his death and resurrection was not enough! After Jesus was risen he ascended into heaven.

This is not just because heaven is Jesus’ true home; it is because heaven is also our true home. And how shall we get to heaven? Yes, it is through the death of Jesus for our sins and his rising in victory over death. But it does not stop there. We have hope of heaven because Jesus, our Savior, ascended into heaven ahead of us––for us––to lead us there.

Now here is where it gets mystical and yet truly relevant to us in the here and now. Just as Jesus, ascended, is in heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father and yet is also physically present with us in the Eucharist––in other words, both in heaven and on earth at the same time, the same is also true of us in a mystical way!

Christ is the Head; we are the Body. St Augustine’s closing words in the Office of Readings for today affirms: “the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.” When Jesus ascended into heaven, he took us there with him. When we gather to worship and feed on the Body and Blood of our Lord, he is here with us. Both are true all the time.

Yes, our physical bodies are still quite limited here on earth. In our bodily existence we have joys and sorrows, exhilarations and pains. Yet something else is true. This is how St Paul expresses it to the Colossians: Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. After all, you have died! Your life is hidden now with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1ff). Our hearts are in Christ, our Head, in heaven.

As Christians we are in Christ. He has gone ahead of us in every way to make our salvation possible. We follow him in death to cancel the debt of sin. We follow him in resurrection for victory over death. We follow him in ascension to our home in heaven.

But in the meantime, while our physical bodies are still on earth, our “hearts” are with Christ in heaven. When some earthly pleasure wants to steal our hearts away, we remember that our hearts are not our own––they are in Christ in heaven. When some earthly pain threatens to crush the very life out of our souls, we remember that our hearts are not our own––they are in Christ in heaven.

Jesus has ascended. Because we are in Christ, we follow him––today and every day until our physical death––to our true home. That is salvation––in Christ.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Bearing Truth

Wednesday: April 4, 2016 –– 6th Week in Easter

John 16:12–15
Bearing Truth

How often do we think, “I wish God would just show me everything and make it plain”?  Maybe imagining God as the Jack Nicholson character Col. Jessep (or not!) in the movie A Few Good Men, would tell us why he doesn’t…. “You can't handle the truth!”

Jesus, shortly before going to the cross, tells his disciples: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.

What if, when he first invited those early disciples to follow him, Jesus had been explicit with who he was, what was going to happen to him, and…. what was going to happen to them if they followed him?!

They were not ready for what would come later, when the Spirit of truth…. will guide you to all truth. First Jesus had the disciples walk intimately with him for three years, listen progressively to his teachings, and observe first hand the many and mysterious miracles that shattered all expectation and understanding.

Then––on the other side of the cross and resurrection––the Spirit of God (the power of God that first moved in the incredible acts of Creation, and then raised Jesus from the dead) fell upon and filled the spirits of those disciples. It was then, after Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and teachings, it all came together and they understood. There are two things I want to emphasize from this.

First, as we read the Gospels––which are accounts of Jesus’ mighty words and mighty deeds during his earthly ministry––the fullness of what it all means is not given. We are given a faith-motivated account of what the disciples saw and heard during those seminal years. This in itself is the basis for what the Catholic Church later called “Development of Doctrine.” It is the idea that while the New Testament gives us truth––reliable, authoritative, and even inerrant truth, it does not give all truth. Rather, the details of truth…. the implications of truth…. the fullness of truth, is unfolding as the Spirit makes it clear to the Church.

It is important here to understand there is no “new” truth, in the sense that something else can be interjected where there was nothing before. Rather, truth is an unfolding of what has always been, even though hidden for a time. More simply, something that was once true is not, later, going to be false; conversely, something that was inherently false and wrong is not later going to become right and true.

Holding to this universal paradigm is essential. It allows for progress in understanding, which is dynamic and life-giving; it also holds to an unshakable core, which while static gives the kind of foundation necessary for endurance. This tension is always present in the Church.

Yet this tension is also present in our personal spiritualities. Even as Jesus was laying the foundation for the Church, he was also lovingly shepherding each of those men who followed him. With wisdom and compassion he gives them just what they need at just the right time. He did not project a “Pentecost standard” on them until they were ready for it and had experienced it. Rather, he patiently took them through each step toward the ultimate purpose and goal he had for them both personally and corporately.

Think of your own spiritual journey. If you have a “healthy” Christian life, you should know and experience and understand more now than you did ten years ago. There are things now you could not have handled then. And if we stay open and humble and obedient (and if we live another ten years), we will know and experience and understand more then than we do now. Why doesn’t the Lord give it to us all at once (we sometimes impatiently ask)? Jesus says, I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.

This is true even among different Christians. Some learn faster. Some are capable of more. Some Christians seem almost to “ooze” holiness while others seem to fall way short of a most basic Christian identity. Can we believe that one reason is what one person can “bear” compared to another?

St Jane Frances De Chantal once made this observation about what is sometimes called a “white” martyrdom (in which the person lives a marked life of total surrender––in contrast to a “red” martyrdom, in which a person suffers a violent death for the faith):

When another sister asked how long the [“white”] martyrdom would continue, the Saint replied: “From the moment when we commit ourselves unreservedly to God, until our last breath. I am speaking, of course, of great-souled individuals who keep nothing back for themselves, but instead are faithful in love. Our Lord does not intend this martyrdom for those who are weak in love and perseverance. Such people he lets continue on their mediocre way, so that they will not be lost to him; he never does violence to our free will.”

This is another way Jesus says to his disciples, I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. If we are open and humble and obedient, Jesus knows how much to draw us into the unfathomable mysteries of his life and grace…. and passion. For all of us who own his Name, the goal and our destination is sainthood; the rate at which we get there is dependent––yes, a bit on our own will, but more––on the loving mercy of the Lord who calls us. Listen to him saying, I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. 

If you are hearing his voice and trusting, know that whatever is happening in your life right now is exactly what Jesus has given for your journey to sainthood. And wherever you might be on your journey, it remains: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Divine Mercy

April 3, 2016 –– The Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts 5:12–16 / from Psalm 118 / Revelation 1:9–11a, 12–13, 17–19 / John 20:19–31
Divine Mercy

The gospels do not tell us what Jesus looked like. We do not know how tall he was, the shade or texture of his hair, or the shape of his nose. Pictures of Jesus are mostly a figment of the artist's imagination. Even those inspired by visions are, at best, private revelation, and not infallibly true. The first chapter of Revelation gives us a verbal picture of Jesus, but it’s surreal––beyond literal description, because Jesus is the risen, glorified Christ.

The writer is John, the man who Scripture calls “the disciple Jesus loved”––the one who laid his head on Jesus' shoulder at the Last Supper. John hears a voice and turns around to see who is speaking: I saw…. one like the Son of Man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead (v.12–17a). This disciple, who was the man closest to Jesus when he was on earth, turns around and sees the Son of God––and falls to his feet like a dead man!

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Mercy is, indeed, Jesus on the cross, shedding tears and inviting us to believe in the incredible love of God. But the reason it is mercy is because, ultimately, Jesus is the Lord with blazing eyes and a tongue like a double-edged sword, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth (Rev 1:5). One day we all will face him in all his power and glory. He will ask each of us: Have you lived believing me, loving me, and following me?” We should never forget that… and pray for mercy.

But we can pray for mercy with confidence. Notice the first thing Jesus says to John: Do not be afraid. This is the essence of what Jesus said to his disciples the evening of that first day of the week––the night of the first Easter Sunday––when they were locked away because of their fear. Jesus appeared (through the locked door, which surely escalated their fears even more) and said to them, Peace be with you

Think about our own fears. What are we afraid of? Maybe it is the awful stories of violence that appear in our news daily. Maybe it’s the current political scene that seems to offer few good choices with reasonable hope. Maybe it’s something closer––a personal financial catastrophe or a relationship that is painful or falling apart or an awful physical affliction. Or maybe the fear is even closer, deep in the heart; a voice that keeps shouting to your spirit, “you’re no good; you can never be forgiven for what you’ve done.”

On this day that Jesus has given the Church as a special grace of Divine Mercy, we are invited to hear some of the last words Jesus gave in Holy Scripture (which occur in the final book of Revelation): I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. Once I was dead, but now I am alive for ever and ever! I hold the keys of death and the netherworld. This is why Jesus can say, Do not be afraid

Because Jesus is God and because Jesus died and rose again, he is still saying to all who will hear: Peace be with you. That's the gospel. There are two things every human being on earth should be afraid of: death and hell. It’s the power of sin, and those two things are behind all our other fears. But even more, there is a way not to be afraid: it is to know him who hold[s] the keys. The one who holds the keys is the Son of God; he died for us to wipe out our sins and he rose from the dead to show that death itself is not greater than the love of God. We are offered mercy.

So on this Divine Mercy Sunday Jesus is saying to each one of us, "Let me be, in your life, who I really am." Ask the Holy Spirit to imprint this picture of who Jesus is deep in your mind and heart. If we do that we will be gripped by Mercy, and our lives will be different. This is our faith.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Holy Thursday: Dying and Serving

March 24, 2016 –– Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
John 13:1–15
Dying and Serving

In these three days of the Triduum we follow Jesus to the cross and his death. On this Holy Thursday we are drawn to the sacred Supper when Jesus, on the night before his death, gave the Church the Mystery of his own Body and Blood. He instituted the Eucharist and Holy Orders. He also instituted the ultimate commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

But first, Jesus is going to his death. Whatever expectations and hopes the disciples had regarding Jesus, imminent death was not included. Peter’s shock at Jesus coming to wash his feet speaks for the disdain and avoidance we all usually feel for whatever seems distasteful and even demeaning to our own preferences and opinions of ourselves.

Jesus is going to his death, and on this evening with his disciples he shows how totally he embraced the role of humbling himself. Jesus “dies” in so many ways: to others’ expectations.... to the honor he had with the disciples as master and teacher.... to any way of promoting himself by plainly explaining what he was doing. The mystery of the greatness of God is made visible in humility of our Lord embracing a slave’s role of feet-washing. As Jesus prepares for his physical death, he is also revealing a “dying” to himself. This is how Jesus loves.

In our self-centered culture, anything that implies death-to-self is ridiculed, despised and even vehemently hated. All we need to do is listen to the mainstream response when the Church will not condone the If it feels good, do it mentality that is rampant in our society. Even among many confessing Christian Faith we find people wanting to feel good about self without first of all submitting that self to the death of the cross. We prefer to try to “heal ourselves” (or excuse ourselves!) instead of accepting God's verdict on our sins.

In this holy Triduum, as we follow Jesus to his death, we can choose truly to follow Jesus in his death by denying ourselves in order to invite the life of Christ to rule our own lives. It is out of this that we love others. The command to love––to lay down our lives for the good of others–– extends beyond Lent and into all areas of life.

Christian husbands and wives are challenged to deny their own desires and pleasures in order to love and serve their spouses. Christian parents sometimes need to deny their own desires and pleasures in order to love and teach and protect their children. Christian young people may have to die to the opinions of their peers in order be faithful to the Lord. Christians in business may need to put to death the desire to succeed at any cost. All Christians need to put to death any attitudes and values from social and cultural influences that are ungodly. It can be the greed of materialism that promises happiness with just one more "thing." It can be the lust of bodily appetites gone berserk so that physical gratification is the ultimate goal. It can be the “normal” response of always wanting one's "rights." Selfishness is always hovering over our shoulder.

Jesus says, I [the master and teacher] have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. As Jesus goes to die, he asks us to follow him even there. On the same night that Jesus commanded us to remember his broken body and shed blood that rescues us from sin, he commanded us to demonstrate the new life he gives by loving and serving others. Every time we want our own way––to be selfish––we need to ask the Holy Spirit to let us see Jesus humbling himself before his disciples on this night before his death on the cross. This is the love of Christ. This is our Faith.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Life Out of Death

March 13, 2016 –– 5th Sunday of Lent
Ezekiel 37:1–14 / Romans 8:6–11 / John 11:1–3, 17–44 (Year A)

The most repellant ugliness on earth is death with its many forms of expression. There is a painting in the Prado Museum in Spain by Hans Baldung titled "The Three Ages of Man with Death." On the ground is a newborn baby. The baby is surrounded by three elongated figures. On the left is a beautiful young woman. Next to her in the middle is a shriveled old woman. With one arm she is reaching out and grabbing the shoulder of the beautiful young girl, and with a sneer she is pulling her toward herself. Her other arm is interlocked with a third creature––whether man or woman is indiscernible, for all features have melted down into a rotting corpse holding an hourglass. The image is one of birth, youth, and old age, lived in the presence of death.

We all live in the presence of death, but it only takes a moment of reflection to recognize that we try to hide it. Society mostly segregates people who are dying from the young and vibrant. Medical science does its best to anesthetize people who are dying so they do not feel it. After people die, the mortician tries to make them look “natural.” We turn cemeteries into landscaped “parks.”

Today’s Scriptures bring us face to face with death. Ezekiel finds himself on a plain outside the city of Babylon. His people have been dragged from their homes and led away as slaves. Everything of value and all that gave them life is gone. The bones of the whole house of Israel are dried up; they are cut off and their hope is lost.

It’s too familiar. This is the cry of our own nation with fears of terrorism and cultural disintegration. This is the cry of the poor who are trapped. This is the cry of people who survive a major tornado or earthquake. This is the cry of parents when they hear a son or daughter has been killed in a car crash. This is the cry of a wife when she learns her husband has been unfaithful. This is the cry from children who hurt because the people they should be able to trust are abusing them. This is the cry of the person who thinks there is no purpose in living, nothing to look forward to. The words of Ezekiel are true for all who sense the effects of death: Our bones are dried up; we are cut off; our hope is lost. All of this and more is death, and death is ugly.

Can these bones come to life? The Scriptures today are even more about the promise of life––the gift our God wants to give us, but it is a gift that depends on our willingness and ability to name and confront the full reality of death. Life can come out of death, but only if we are not afraid to admit that we are dying and that it’s beyond our control.

This means seeing death as God sees it. Physical death, as horrible as it is, is not the full picture. Physical death and the horror of dying is what gets the attention (when we can’t avoid it). But even bigger than the ugliness of physical death is God’s word to us that physical death is a tangible result of a spiritual death which characterizes our world. St Paul tells the Romans the wages of sin is death…. (6:23a).

There is an interplay between spiritual death and physical death that becomes clearly visible when God’s Spirit gives us eyes to see. A book on grief recovery traces the story of a boy named Johnny. When five-year-old Johnny's dog dies, Johnny is stunned and he bursts out crying. His dog was his constant companion. Now the dog is gone and little Johnny is upset. Johnny's dad stammers a bit and says, "Uh, don't feel bad, Johnny, we'll get you a new dog Saturday." In that one sentence, Johnny's dad is offering the first two steps in society's grief management program: Bury your feelings; replace your losses. Once you have the new dog you won't need to think about the old dog anymore.

Later John falls in love, and the world never looked brighter––until she dumps him. Suddenly there is a deep darkness. John's heart is broken, and this time it's a bigger hurt. This is a person his heart was fixed on. John is a wreck. But mom comes to the rescue this time and says with great sensitivity, "Don't feel bad, John, there are other girls." In other words, bury the pain and replace the loss. John has steps one and two down pat now. He'll use them the rest of his life.

Shortly after, John's grandfather dies––the one to whom he felt closest. Called home from his school, John saw his mother weeping in the living room. He wanted to embrace her and cry with her, but his dad said, "Don't disturb her, John, she needs to be alone. She'll be all right in a little while." The third piece in the grieving puzzle was now in place: Grieve alone. So he too went to his room to cry alone.

This is the pattern our world gives us: Bury your feelings; replace your losses; grieve alone; let time heal; live with regret; never trust again. This has been society's approach for years. Even our culture’s compulsive consumerism is fed by a desire to forget our mortality––just find something immediate and momentarily exciting to buy that can distract your feelings. All this does is intensify our separation from God

When we try to insulate ourselves from pain and death, we are shutting ourselves off from God. We live in a world of death precisely because we want life on our own terms and take matters into our own hands in an effort to make it happen. God wants us to see that trying to understand our world and live our lives on our own, apart from his Truth, is death. Yet evil knows how to package itself so innocently and even beautifully. Christian Faith means looking at any and everything God calls sin and then seeing in it the ugliness of death.

We cannot do this by ourselves. We need God to help us. Yet the death around us clouds our understanding. We so often run from God because we know he is offended when we choose the things that bring death. It can begin to seem that God is the problem. We even want to blame him. How can we learn to trust?

A little girl hurt her finger and ran to her daddy who was busy studying in his den. She showed him her finger, but he was so caught up in what he was doing that he just looked at it and said, “Oh, it will be all right," and sent her out. She ran to her mother, weeping and crying, and her mother said, "Oh, dear, does it hurt so much?" The little girl said, "No, Mommy, it's just that Daddy didn't even say, 'Ouch.'" She just wanted somebody to say "ouch" with her.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God not only tells us what is right and wrong, he has chosen to come among us––so much so that God himself says “ouch” with us. We find this in the story of Lazarus. These were close friends of Jesus, and he loved Lazarus and Martha and Mary. It hurt Jesus that Lazarus had to experience the ugliness of death; it hurt Jesus to see Martha and Mary in the despair of grief. So we have the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept. Of course Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus to life from the time he first heard of the illness. So why did he weep when he arrived at the tomb?

Jesus wept because he felt the pain and cared about their suffering. Jesus also weeps for us and Jesus weeps with us. As this fifth Sunday in Lent brings us closer to Holy Week, the theme is becoming clearer: death leads to resurrection. Yet there are many times when our hearts and our minds look at the ugliness of death and wonder if there is any hope. There is hope when we look Jesus because Jesus heals the brokenhearted by becoming one of them.

The letter to the Romans affirms that if we have the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in us we shall rise from the dead. So on this Sunday, the Church calls us to reflect on what it means to have the Spirit of Jesus in us. Just as Ezekiel could sense the new spirit that would come upon his people in their return from exile, we who believe that Jesus Christ is God-with-us can experience a foretaste of resurrection as our lives change from death to life because the Spirit of Jesus lives in us.

Right now Jesus weeps with us when we are hurting, when the ugliness of death comes close. He weeps for us when we do not see or accept the gifts that God offers us. The story of the raising of Lazarus tells us that Jesus is indeed Lord of the living and of the dead. And it tells us this: we can take our burdens to him and he will listen…. he will say "ouch" with us in our time of pain. Death does not have the last word.

Christian Faith proclaims that the truth of God is Jesus, and the truth of Jesus is that life comes out of death. This is the Gospel.

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