Thursday, July 2, 2015

The god of Eros

A little reflection: It is is extreme irony that the god of Eros, which attracts its devotees with "love" and pleasure, shows its ultimate nature with such intolerant cruelty.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Storms of Life

June 21, 2015 –– 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job 38:1, 8–11 / Psalm 107 / 2 Corinthians 5:14–17 / Mark 4:35–41
The Storms of Life

This is classic Bible story. As a child I sang a song about Jesus commanding the storm to stop. Long before the day of video we had “flannel graph” illustrations to visualize each stage of the story. There are eyewitness details to establish the setting: other boats, the exact time, how the boat was filling with water, how Jesus was asleep in the stern on a cushion, the honesty of the disciples' terror…. But this is not mere Bible story for children; this story is given to encourage faith in Jesus.

It starts with a common occurrence for Jesus and his disciples. Getting into a boat on this lake was, for them, like me getting in my car to drive from E-town to Mechanicsburg––not without possible danger, but still something that is done routinely. This time, though, a storm hit. It was a sudden and furious squall, and so bad that even these experienced fishermen were afraid. We know the story: Jesus was asleep, they awakened him, he told the storm to be still, and it did.

Now if life for Christians always followed this paradigm, we wouldn't have any problems. But life is not always like this, even for people who believe. "Storms" still come into ours lives––cancer, miscarriage, violent deaths, traffic accidents, the loss of income, natural disasters…. It is threatening even to watch the daily news. There is plenty in our world to cause fear, and there is not always immediate deliverance when we cry out. So what does this story really mean?

We read this story of Jesus and the storm and wonder why, if God loves us, the power of Jesus doesn't intervene every time. We want God to fix the here and now instead of, what seems to us, playing a game of hide-and-seek. Is he with us in the storm or not? How does the world of Bible stories intersect with the realities of life in our world?

This takes us to the heart of faith. Faith is not merely believing in the miraculous. Faith is easy when there is an unmistakable miracle. Faith calls us to trust in the presence of Jesus when it seems nothing is going right. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that even the storm did not matter if he was with them. He chose, on that occasion, to still the storm to prove his point, but obviously he did not keep the storm from coming.

Still, we want know: If Jesus can still the storm, then why doesn't he do it every time? It's the age old question: if God is all powerful and all loving, then how can such awful things continue to exist in the world? How can we be expected not to be afraid when it's so easy for us to be hurt?

We know only what God has revealed to us. We know that we have been given an ability to choose. We know that choosing disobedience to God has opened the whole universe to chaos (Romans 8:20). Hard and horrible things happen. This is the nature of our present world.

Yet God has also revealed himself as coming into this hard world to be with us. Think about this: If God were to stop all bad things, it would change the nature of our response to him. It would not be faith directing our responses but rather his intervening (and dominating) presence. We would not choose to love God, but rather be overwhelmed by him. If God acts to prevent the consequences of choice, the true gift of choice is withdrawn. The very Passion of Christ would not exist in a world where God always delivers from fear and suffering.

God does not give temporal deliverance every time. When God became one of us in Christ, he never promised us an easy time or said that Christians would be always be spared the horrifying things. In the life of the early church, when persecution threatened to overwhelm its very existence, the disciples had to learn a different way that Jesus was with them in the “storm”. In early Christian art the Church was depicted as a boat on a perilous sea. In fact, when Mark was writing this Gospel, the lions in Rome were already looking forward to their first taste of raw Christian. The Jesus who stopped the storm that day for his disciples also said: Take up your cross and follow me. Mark's point in this story is that when Jesus is with us, we do not have to be ultimately afraid.


This is the true nature of Christian Faith. What Jesus affirmed to the disciples that day on the boat was that he was with them. In times of fear, Jesus invites us to have faith and to believe that storms do not last forever and they do not have the last word. Jesus is bigger than our “storms”, and when we invite him into our lives he is with us.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Suffering Love

Tuesday: 16 June, 2015 –– 11th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:43–48
Suffering Love

Christian Faith is full of hard things. Some things, like the Trinity, are hard to understand. Other things, like today’s Gospel, are hard to do.

The essence of Christian practice is loving like Jesus. That is enough to keep us perpetually on our knees, at least figuratively. Loving like Jesus is not just some lofty idea. Christian love is not mere sentiment and its effect is not the “warm fuzzies”.  In this broken world, love hurts.

Jesus both teaches and models what real love is. That is one way to get a practical handle on the Gospel readings yesterday (Matthew 5:38–42) and today. In yesterday’s reading, Jesus tells us what love does not do: love does not resist an evil person…. love does not hit back. In today’s reading Jesus tells us what love does: love even loves enemies…. love prays for those who persecute.

It is hard to get around this when Jesus modeled it so fully. Peter is explicit in his first letter: 

For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (1Peter 2:20–23)

One way to express the essence of God’s character––and again, Jesus models this totally––is suffering love. This is how followers of Jesus are to find basic orientation as we journey through this world.

I cannot begin to deal with the many implications of this in a daily homily. Perhaps that is good. Maybe we all need to spend time reflecting on the general orientation before we pursue the side-trail implications. Yet I do need to acknowledge the big “what if” question that is always asked when any focus is given to the nonresistant love of Jesus. To do this, I’m reminded of a day when I was in seminary listening to a NT lecture about “Jesus and Ethics of the Kingdom”.  I’ve never gotten over what I heard that day…. and I hope I never do.

The prof––my most incredible teacher, ever––had taken us to what is, at the same time, this most exhilarating and most awful climax of what it means to follow Jesus in suffering love. He did so with humble honesty. Even as he exalted our Lord who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phlp 2:8), he confessed his––and our––weakness in contemplating such a thing. Then he told of a time when he gave the same lecture while on sabbatical in Africa. One of the students responded, asking the what if question: “But what would you do if a man had killed your son and violated your wife or daughter?”

My prof said that in that moment the Holy Spirit gave him an answer: “I don’t know what I’d do…. but let me tell you what I wish I could do…. I wish I would be able to love that man the way that God loved me when I killed his Son.”


That is suffering love. That is how we need to hear Jesus in these Gospel readings. And if we do, we’ll know that every moment of every day we need to be on our knees…. at least in our hearts. That’s the only way we can totally follow Jesus in suffering love.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Three Is One

May 31, 2015 –– The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40 / Romans 8:14–17/ Matthew 28:16–20
Three Is One

There seems to be an irony in that one of the most basic and important doctrines of Christian Faith is also something beyond human understanding: Three is One. We embrace the Trinity as a truth so significant that it is a major divide between us as Christians and all other religions. Every week we confess belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, when pressed, it is somewhere between extremely hard and impossible to explain how God is both One and Three Persons.

Yet there is some comfort to be found in this enigma. A god who can be fully understood by us would be no greater than we are. Speaking through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, God himself says:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (55:8,9)

This is one reason we worship. By faith––but not apart from reason––we embrace the God who has revealed himself to us. It is by faith because we cannot fully understand. There is a mystery to the One who tells us my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Yet it is not without reason. Christian Faith, rightly understood, gives the best answers for all the questions we have about the big issues of existence and meaning and values (one of the best expressions of this is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis). At the heart of these answers is the Most Holy Trinity.

From “the beginning” (in human language, since we can hardly think outside of time), there is a trio of personality in one single expression of purpose and character. The essence of this Being is Love, so that love is the motivation behind all that exists, and love is the defining purpose and expression of all that it means to be human.

But right away we are in trouble because our very understanding of love is diminished and twisted. We need to be directed toward real love––and we have been: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 4:9,10). God––Father, Son, and Holy Spirit––who created us (and all there is) in love, has given us the ultimate expression of love––selfless sacrifice––so that we can receive God’s love all over again…. and then learn to give it to others.

Could it be that “fussing” over trying to understand the Trinity (and chasing other intellectual bunny trails) is actually a diabolical diversion to keep us from the real issue of learning to accept and give Love? Speaking outside the context of Christian theology, Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, has said: “If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact––not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.” Instead of assuming we can fully understand God and all his ways, what if we opened ourselves simply to take God seriously and respond to what he has given us?

That was Moses’ word to Israel: you must now know and fix in your heart that the Lord is God…. and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments…. that you and your children may prosper….

Our loving God desires us as his children twice over: first as our Creator and again as our Redeemer. The fusion of love that exists among the Trinity is made available to us. Notice how all this comes together in St Paul’s words to the Romans: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ….

This is the message of the Church. This is the Gospel. Eternal Love has created us and Eternal Love calls us into the real love that is Eternal Life. The world around us is dying. People are killing others and themselves because they do not understand the love of God––Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are here today because the Love of God is at work in our lives. Can you believe you are a part of the final words Jesus gave to his disciples before ascending to the Father?

Jesus leaves us with a fact, a command, and a promise:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me (the power of evil and death does not have the last word; God’s love is stronger).

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations (because Christian Faith is the ultimate Truth), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (while the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, the three Persons of the Godhead certainly are), teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (what Moses said so long ago is still pertinent)

And behold,  (here is the promise) I am with you always, until the end of the age.


On this Trinity Sunday, we worship the Father who gave his Son so that we could be filled with his Spirit and live in true love. This is who we are.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lord, you know me.

Three years ago today I entered Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. The following is the reading for today's St Philip Neri feast day. Amen and amen.

From the Confessions of Saint Augustine, bishop
(Lib 10,1,1-2,2;5,7 CSEL 33, 226-227, 230-231)

Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny

Lord, you know me. Let me know you. Let me come to know you even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; enter it and make it a place suitable for your dwelling, a possession without spot or blemish. This is my hope and the reason I speak. In this hope I rejoice, when I rejoice rightly. As for the other things of this life, the less they deserve tears, the more likely will they be lamented; and the more they deserve tears, the less likely will men sorrow for them. For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light. I wish to do this truth before you alone by praising you, and before a multitude of witnesses by writing of you.

O Lord, the depths of a man’s conscience lie exposed before your eyes. Could anything remain hidden in me, even though I did not want to confess it to you? In that case I would only be hiding you from myself, not myself from you. But now my sighs are sufficient evidence that I am displeased with myself; that you are my light and the source of my joy; that you are loved and desired. I am thoroughly ashamed of myself; I have renounced myself and chosen you, recognizing that I can please neither you nor myself unless you enable me to do so.

Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny. I have already told of the profit I gain when I confess to you. And I do not make my confession with bodily words, bodily speech, but with the words of my soul and the cry of my mind which you hear and understand. When I am wicked, my confession to you is an expression of displeasure with myself. But when I do good, it consists in not attributing this goodness to myself. For you, O Lord, bless the just man, but first you justify the wicked. And so I make my confession before you in silence, and yet not in silence. My voice is silent but my heart cries out.

You, O Lord, are my judge. For though no one knows a man’s innermost self except the man’s own spirit within him, yet there is something in a man which even his own spirit does not know. But you know all of him, for you have made him. As for me, I despise myself in your sight, knowing that I am but dust and ashes; yet I know something of you that I do not know of myself.

True, we see now indistinctly as in a mirror, but not yet face to face. Therefore, so long as I am in exile from you, I am more present to myself than to you. Yet I do know that you cannot be overcome, while I am uncertain which temptations I can resist and which I cannot. Nevertheless, I have hope, because you are faithful and do not allow us to be tempted beyond our endurance, but along with the temptation you give us the means to withstand it.


I will confess, therefore, what I know of myself, and also what I do not know. The knowledge that I have of myself, I possess because you have enlightened me; while the knowledge of myself that I do not yet possess will not be mine until my darkness shall be made as the noonday sun before your face.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Living in the Ascension

Thursday: 14 May, 2015 –– Ascension Day

Living in the Ascension

On this Ascension Day we reflect on our Lord’s physical departure from this world and his return to the Father. The Ascension is important both for Jesus himself and for us.

The Ascension was important for Jesus because he is God. It was a return to his status prior to his humiliation (see Philippians 2:6–11). In the Ascension we see Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The Ascension was important for Jesus because he is Man. The Ascension brought closure to his work of redemption. In his Incarnation, Jesus forever joined humanity to divinity. In his Death, Jesus atoned for the sins of Adam’s race. In his Resurrection, Jesus proved the triumph of life over human death. In his Ascension, Jesus opened the way for a redeemed and still-physical humanity to have an eternal existence beyond the boundaries of this world as we know it.

The Ascension is important in a special way for us. As Jesus ascended to heaven and took his place at the right hand of the Father, he has the premier role of Intercessor and Mediator for his people. As our Great High Priest, the wounds of his hands and feet and side constantly plead for mercy.

The Ascension is also important for us because it establishes our identity even as we live in this world. As surely as Jesus, our Head, has ascended to heaven, we––Christians, the members of his Body––already have our place in heaven. The Body is connected to the Head, and so St Paul admonishes the Colossians (and us): if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:1–3). The Ascension is the culmination of our baptism. Those who have died with Christ share with him his place in heaven.

This means the Ascension shows us that this present world is not all there is. As we live in a world that tries to dominate our affections and desires, we are reminded that this world is not our home. There is nothing in this current world that is more important than the heavenly destiny that is ours through Jesus Christ.

On this Ascension Day, we rejoice that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. He has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). He prays for us (Heb 7: 24b,25). He shows us that our lives are far more than a rationalistic world comprehends.


We are invited to live each day in response to the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord. Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Loving Like Jesus

May 10, 2015 –– 6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44–48 / 1 John 4:7–10 / John 15:9–17
Loving Like Jesus

Jesus says, Love each other as I have loved you (Jn 15:12b). The Apostle John repeats and emphasizes this theme in his first letter: love one another (1Jn 4:7).

Probably nothing is more misunderstood in today’s world than God’s kind of love. Certainly no standard of behavior is higher or harder than this call to love like Jesus. This is one reason the Mass starts with a confession of sin. Who of us consistently loves like Jesus? It is when we grasp something of the way God gives his love to us in Jesus Christ that we begin to understand what it really means to be called a Christian.

C. S. Lewis once observed, “It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion” (Mere Christianity). Another writer added this perspective: “When God wanted to defeat sin, his ultimate weapon was the sacrifice of his own Son” (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace). We can rightly say that the essence of Christianity is love––love that is defined and modeled by Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you... (Jn 15:9). How did the Father love the Son? It was not by shielding him from the horrible things in a broken world. Starting with being born as a baby under the stigma of poverty and coming to the semi-climax of cruel death by crucifixion, God is saying that his kind of love means self-sacrifice. The Son obeyed the Father by turning away from all the shortcuts and self-serving; the Son obeyed the Father by suffering and dying. It was then that the Father honored the Son by raising him from the dead.

Our tendency is to want joy apart from pain––glory without the crucifixion. Most people turn away from facing the realities of a broken world. When we attempt “love” apart from Jesus, we find ourselves frustrated and hurt in ways that make us feel all alone. The Gospel proclaims that Christ died so we might live, but we only truly live as he lives––and that means dying as he died. If we do not die to ourselves we cannot live to God, and if we do not live unto God we are already dead.

It is natural desire true joy in life. All of us want to experience real love. So we are invited to look to Jesus. Hear what Jesus says about love. Notice how Jesus shows us the love of God. Being a Christian does not mean having the easiest life possible in this world. When we insist on our own way––on our own convenience and our own understanding––we are not following Jesus. When we try to live life our own way we hurt ourselves and others around us. We cannot truly love apart from the vulnerability of self-sacrifice.

I’ve told this before, but I am here today because the Lord took me deeper into what it means to follow him in sacrificial love. In my “previous life” (besides being a Protestant pastor) I was an obsessive bird hunter and clay shooter. I carefully prioritized shooting in my weekly schedule. From September through March I was in the field with my birddog every Thursday on my day off. That was my time, and few things would cause me to change my priority. But in the late 90s, as I began to be aware of some significant “holes” in my spirit, my daughter hit a crisis. We had taken Katie to Africa on a mission trip when she was ten years old, and we had all taken a drug to prevent malaria. It turned out that the drug could have serious side effects (particularly on young people), and Katie began to experience clinical anxiety and deep depression in her freshman year of high school. One Thursday morning she was unable to get out of bed because of fear and emotional darkness. I was already dressed for my day of hunting, but it was quickly apparent I needed to stay home with her. There was no question of what I would do, but how would I feel about it? The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and the issue was clear: would I stay home all sullen and feeling sorry for myself that I could not be doing what I wanted to do.... or would I embrace this opportunity to love my daughter with a whole heart?  So I prayed––right there in the hall outside Katie’s bedroom––and told the Lord to change my heart. That was a major step early in my journey to be here as I am today. 

When Jesus calls us to lose our lives for his sake, it to means something in our day-to-day choices. One way we show our faith that Jesus is the Christ when we choose to die to our self-centeredness. We are most like Jesus when we choose to go through our days serving others instead of always trying to please ourselves. This is one way we fulfill the description of love that Jesus gives: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:).


Every one of us desires love. Jesus shows us that the way to get love is by giving love, and this means being willing to give ourselves away. Give yourself to Jesus  in a new way today. Let’s let him live his love through us.

 
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