Pentecost

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
– John 20:21


My Dear Friends in Christ,

In May of 1934, Billy Graham’s dad and some local businessmen met as they often did on the Graham’s dairy farm, praying for the spiritual revival of their city and country. One suggested to add a bold new prayer that day, that God would raise up someone from right there in town who would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. No one save God was thinking of 15-year-old Billy who at that very moment was pitching hay at the mules, daydreaming of being a professional baseball player. God answered that bold prayer in ways beyond all imagining, and has continued to answer it to this day, long after Billy’s death, despite the antics of his kids. “A mystery and wonder of prayer,” Billy Graham reflected, “is that God often waits until someone asks.” Ask boldly, that God answer beyond our imaginings.

We could ask no more boldly nor receive more fully than what we celebrate today, what God has already done for us. Today, we celebrate that God has given Himself to us: no distance, no separation, no qualifiers. God makes Himself ours, willing to be rejected and ignored, that we might know His ardent and gentle love. God gives the Spirit because He loves me and wants to be close to me. Nothing could be more intimate, and nothing is more powerful. And God’s Spirit reaches out through me that others might know of God’s love and power in their lives.  It is no academic exercise but the very heart of the Christian life.

I spent this past week reflecting on the two-thousand years of examples of those disciples who have received the Spirit and made God known in their own time and place.

I prayed for
the passion of Peter
and the boldness of Paul.

I prayed for
the spirituality of Mary
and the work ethic of Martha.

I prayed for
the stern determination of John the Baptist
and the carefree joy of Francis of Assisi.

I prayed for
the buff, healthy body of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti
and the intellect of Robert Bellarmine.

I prayed for
the physical endurance of Teresa of Avila,
the spiritual simplicity of Therese, the Little Flower,
and for the spiritual endurance of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

I prayed for
the loud raucous humor of Philip Neri
and the quiet patience of John Vianney.

I prayed for
the practical administration of Thomas More
and the spiritual insight of Ignatius of Loyola.

I prayed for
the passionate, unflinching single-mindedness of Archbishop Romero
and the intellectual acuity of Paul VI.

I prayed for the willingness to sacrifice:
my life like Maximillian Kolbe
and my reputation like John Chrysostum.

I prayed for
the gentle, joyful, trusting, simple faith of John XXIII
and the intellectual philosophy of John Paul II.


I prayed boldly for me and for all of you that we might imitate those early disciples of Jesus along with these and all of the saints. I prayed that, no matter our status or state in life, we like them, might spend our lives spreading the Gospel. A list of such remarkable heroes of Christianity might lead some to think ‘I could never do anything like that, so why try? Why bother?’ Recall, though, that none of these saints started out that way.   God met them where they were and then filled them with the Spirit to do great things. After all, when you think about it: Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered; Paul had poor health and was complicit in murder. John the Baptist was eccentric – to say the least! Martha worried too much. Robert Bellarmine made mistakes and John Chrysostum could get downright nasty. None was perfect, but they were open to the Spirit and God used each of them to make known His ardent and gentle love.

Remember, as we heard in our Gospel, the very first Gift of the Spirit, the first sign of God’s presence is MERCY. Right after Jesus breathes on the disciples, He shared with them God’s desire and power to forgive sins: yours and mine as well as theirs. No less profoundly than as with those early disciples them, God calls each of us to service in the body of Christ in and through this community. God WILL use us too if we stop making excuses, if we open ourselves to the Spirit.  There’s the power of the Holy Spirit in our own lives!

The gift of the Spirit is not like a Stradivarius violin, well-made but only valuable only because it has hardly been played.  The gift of the Spirit was given to us to be used, that we might give God away. And Saint Paul gives us a litmus test in our second reading for how well we have received God’s gift of the Spirit: the fruit of the Spirit is

These are general attributes, called for in every disciple, known in differing degrees in all of the saints. Aware of God’s Spirit, God’s very life within me, am I loving, joyful, peaceful, patient kind, generous, faithful, gentle, in control of myself? Am I willing to share who I am and what I have with Jesus Christ in and though this community? If not, pray, and pray boldly. Peace be with you.

Peace,

 

 

Meeting Jesus – Week 4

Why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.
– Acts 1:11


My Dear Friends in Christ,

Why are you standing there looking at the sky? Try it sometime. Stand outside in a crowded space and look up at the sky for a while. I guarantee you, that, if you do it hard enough and long enough, someone else in that place will follow your lead, even if there is nothing but blue sky to see. Why are you standing there looking up at the sky? In our first reading today the angels chide the disciples of Jesus for standing there with their heads up and their eyes fixed on the sky. Perhaps it is the same two angels who, just a few weeks ago called them out for looking down at the empty tomb, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?  He is not here but has been raised…”

Perhaps it seems like they can’t win, or at least they can’t find Jesus and in both cases, the Gospel writer Mark makes sure to mention that while they saw with the eyes of their body, they doubted.  They did not believe with the eyes of faith. It’s one of the primary reasons for unbelief: people who should know better are looking for all the wrong evidence… but we’ll get to that in a second.

We’ve spent the last few weeks focusing on Meeting Jesus, on unpacking the images Jesus uses to describe Himself and the relationship He seeks with us. It started with the Good Shepherd and that short, funny little video which served as profound reminder that God is patient with us, that God cares for us, not when we clean ourselves up or get our act together, but when we need help, even if we don’t know it or think otherwise. And in that image, Jesus also makes clear that as the Good Shepherd, He is constantly seeking out those who have strayed, not to condemn them or drag them back kicking and screaming to the fold, but reaching out to the where they are, loving them as they are and then carrying them gently on His shoulders, caring for them, watching over them, feeding and watering them all the time. Then it was the vine and the branches, the vine seeking to keep the branches connected and nourished, not just with something but with the Vine’s own very essence. The vine literally pours it’s essence into the branch that the branch may become fruitful, producing fruit that will last and produce an abundance of delightful wine.

Last week, the image shifted a bit, less figurative, less poetic but far easier to understand and more drastic in the relationship offered. The image of a friend of Jesus suggests a certain equality. God humbles the Divine self if offering us friendship, in lowering dignity to raise us up that we might share in the very life of God. But now comes the hitch, the challenge. Jesus ascends into Heaven, taking His earthly Body with Him. Suddenly, everything’s different. How can we meet someone who’s “not there?” We don’t get to meet Jesus, don’t get to encounter Him in the same way we meet our other friends.  We can call on the telephone, talk over the back fence, run into each other at Safeway, or plan a cocktail party, even by Zoom. But we can meet Jesus…

It is a perfect moment then to pause and reflect for a moment about where we look for Jesus and how we can meet Him. The Ascension is when we celebrate that right order is restored. The Son of God has returned to Heaven, to take His rightful place (if you’ll pardon the pun) at the right hand of the Father, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but… the one to come. Remember, the Son of God had emptied Himself, as Saint Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, to come to us.  The omniscient, omnipotent God humbled Himself to take on our human form. As the human, Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to us, gave Himself to us, suffered and died for us. With the power of His love, He rose from the dead and appeared to those who knew Him and let them know He forgave them and loved them. And now, He has returned to the Father. God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.

Well, not all is right.  After all, the disciples still can’t find him, can’t seem to meet Him. Imagine: as well as they knew Him, they’re still having trouble: They looked first in the tomb, but He wasn’t among the dead. Then they looked up in the sky, but He wasn’t in clouds. Doesn’t this sound like our own search for Jesus? Too often we look among the things of this world: money, power, sex, food, drugs, fame, comfort, safety, security.  But when we focus on these things, when we look here, we are reminded that these things are not ends in themselves and, if they become gods, idols rather, then lead to death. But the opposite is also true, isn’t it? Jesus is not to be found in some pie-in-the-sky theology. Jesus is not a doctrine or theoretical conscript. He is not canon law, liturgical rubric, or theological doctrine. Sure, these are important, helpful, but if these become our idols than our feet are never grounded, and we are no better than kites blowing in the wind.

Jesus refuses to show Himself in a way that demands belief in Him as the Son of God. His presence in in the world is not “demand” but “INVITATION,” about bringing God’s love into the world and proposing that His disciples share that love with others: Love one another… HOW?… as I have loved you. It’s the same reason that Jesus refused to use God’s omnipotent power to defeat the Roman soldier and the Temple guard as they came to take Him away when, to take Him into custody on the night before He was crucified. Rather, Jesus sacrificed Himself for them and for us. And here, at the Ascension, with the disciples, Jesus refuses to beguile them with a display of earthly power, or oratory about messiahship or fitting into their patterns. They will find the truth only as they look through their circumstances and, by faith, with the eyes of faith, perceive the hidden realities, the mysteries of God’s love made known, as He did when He was with them on earth.

And so too for us. To meet Jesus, we cannot expect proof as the world demands it. We must look beyond either the things of death or the things of the sky. We must look at the world not as the world does. No, we must look at the world to see Jesus, to meet Jesus, to share Jesus. This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven. The angels remind the disciples and us that we will only find Jesus if we look for Him in the ways He promised to remain with us. Remember, God came, not as the great warrior king that would brutally put down the Romans and free them but as the gentle lamb who would not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. Remember Jesus met them not as the stern judge ready to punish them for their actions but as the great friend who would eat with them and share God’s love. Remember that he gave them His Body and Blood to stay with them and then challenged them to go forth Baptizing in His name. Remember, he called Himself the Good Shepherd, not only taking care of the sheep but willing to die for them. Remember He called Himself the Vine, who sought not only to keep the branches close and connected but filled with very essence of who God is and how God works. Remember, Jesus made them His friends, a daringly intimate relationship that suggest a certain equality between the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Creator and one of the lowly creatures, all in humility to be close to us.

And that’s why they can’t stand there with their heads in the clouds. In appearing to them after His resurrection, in forgiving them their sins and failures, even here in our first reading in answering their questions, Jesus has shifted the focus from knowing Him to sending them. Jesus has redefined what a “kingdom” is and has also redefined for Christians the understanding of Jesus as Messiah. The disciples are sent out in His name, using His power, offering His teachings. In fact, the disciples are sent out to continue His work, the work of Jesus in building the Kingdom of the God. The kingdom of God is not a territory or political realm. It is the rule of God over human hearts. It is initiated in the prophetic work of Jesus, not only in exorcisms and healings, but above all in the “healing of the people”: the call of the outcast into fellowship. Now, because Jesus is enthroned as King-Messiah, he can pour out the Spirit on his apostolic successors through whom his rule will be exercised over the people (Acts 2:33–36). The “kingdom” is about restoring the people of God through the Holy Spirit, so that they can live and serve, so they can recognize as their leader the apostles, His witnesses, both in testifying about Him but also proclaiming this Good News, witness to others. And this same Spirit will allow them to know and revel in and make use of the messianic blessings of harmony and communion with God and with one another. This restoration will take place through the witnessing activity of the apostles after they receive “a power from the Holy Spirit.”

And so, we must look for Jesus as we pray for and ask for and seek this powerful Spirit. Then we will see Jesus in the kindness and gentleness and reconciliation of others.  Indeed, we must be kind and gentle and forgiving to others so that they might encounter Jesus as well.  And we must look for him in his Church that keeps us nourished by His Body and Blood and provides us the way to Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit. And when we look here, we will remember that he would not leave us orphan and that he promised to remain with us far longer than we search for Him: Lo, I am with you always until the end of the age.

And, then? We must choose what we do with God’s gift. The final choice is clear: The commission is to take the good news of what God has done in Jesus—of all that God has done in Jesus. We put aside our unbelief even as we struggle to see the “evidence” of providing the risen Christ to others. The presence of God, the promise of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit make any of it possible. Yet still we have to risk ourselves in the mission. The invitation of Jesus to us is to learn the lesson which the disciples finally grasped, to go forward to continue His work. The gospel is truly ‘open-ended’, that we may complete the story in our lives.

Each us writes a little bit more of the Gospel in the ways that we meet Jesus and in the ways that we allow others to meet Jesus in us and through us. Stay tuned…

Peace,

 

 

Meeting Jesus – Week 3

I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I
have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 
– John 15:15

 

My Dear Friends in Christ,

“Jesus is our friend” is not some sappy kindergarten notion but a realistic view of what God wants and a comprehensible way to understand and achieve it. We know what it means to be and to have a true friend.  Even in the abstract we know that friendship is comfort, support, guidance, joy, excitement, challenge. Friendship is built up in time spent with the other and all of the hallmarks and requirements of any earthly friendship offer us insights into what God wants. In our message series, Meeting Jesus, we have been examining the images Jesus uses for Himself to understand better what God wants. And what God wants FOR us is a whole lot more than what God wants FROM us. That’s why it is so important not only that we MEET Jesus but also that we come to KNOW Jesus.

Jesus uses many images for Himself: I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Vine. I call you friends. These are not mere accidents, not throw-away descriptions; they offer us a peek into the mind and the heart of God. God wants us close, not to keep us under the thumb but as a sheep is to a shepherd, as the branch is to the vine, as friends are to one another. These are the ways that Jesus seeks to welcome us (and allow us to welcome Him), to encounter us (and to allow us to encounter Him), to accompany us (and to allow us to accompany Him) and transform us (and allow us to transform others). Each of these images establishes a relationship where God sacrifices on our behalf, to offer us grace. The GOOD shepherd knows his sheep, spends time with them, takes care of them, feeds and waters them and, ultimately, lays down his life for them. The vine offers life to the branch, keeps the branch alive, pours its very essence into the branch. Friends look out for one another, care for one another, have fun together, sacrifice for the other.

Our gospel today is taken from the Last Supper as recorded by John. Jesus knows He doesn’t have much time.  In fact, this is His final encounter with the Apostles before His betrayal, torture and murder.  He tells them of their new situation, born of His having chosen and loved them.  Jesus loves without limit, laying down his life for them despite the fact that they are still locked in their ignorance, one of them is a betrayer, and another will deny him. With Jesus, their past and even future failures will not be held against them.  Jesus doesn’t condemn them; He loves them.

This is the commandment of Jesus, the way they are to live and love.  Jesus’ love establishes a new relationship of the disciples with God.  Through no act of the will or physical effort on their part, the disciples have been drawn into a new relationship.  They are not slaves, dependent on the whim of a master, but friends, intimate associates of Jesus who loves them without limit. A slave is valued for utility, what he or she can do.  A friend is valued for who he or she is.

Jesus has chosen them out of love, friended them (and not only on Facebook), raised them to the dignity of friends and now commissions them, the Father giving all they need. Jesus concludes with a restatement of the commandment essential for their new status. The quality of their love will mark them out as disciples, indeed as friends of Jesus.

But what does it mean to be a friend of Jesus?  It sounds more like a slogan for a crusade rather than something that defines my life. I spent some time with our young people recently and they reminded me, with an idealism to be celebrated and appreciated of what it means to be a friend. Throughout my time with young people, whether in confession, in preparation for Confirmation, in counseling or just in listening to them, I think the essence of friendship boils down to three major elements: Vulnerability; Generosity; Joy.

Let’s look briefly at each one and then see what they mean for the friendship Jesus has given us and reminds us today to take up again. Vulnerability: With my friend I can be myself.  I don’t have to dress up or dumb my problems down.  I don’t have to put on airs nor hide my gifts or talents. I can be who I am, where I am, without mask or fear, without reprisal. I can be awkward, don’t need to pretend I have all the answers. I can lack confidence. I don’t need makeup. And I’m still ok.  My friend doesn’t care about any of that. My friend is a comforting place, a safe harbor that I can sail into whenever I need supplies of comfort, consolation, guidance, support.  I can be open, honest, comfortable, vulnerable. I even want to be vulnerable with my friend.

Generosity: I like being with my friend, even if we’re just quiet together, shooting hoops, having coffee.  I want to give to my friend, share with my friend, spend time with my friend. Without overwhelming me, or pushing me, my friend calls me to be more than I am by myself, and I want to offer the best of myself to my friend, not because I HAVE to but because I WANT to. My friend doesn’t demand anything of me but sure appreciates whatever time I spend, whatever gifts I offer. I like looking out for my friend, helping him, doing for her, I understand that I have a responsibility for my friend.  But I’m not a slave with a duty to perform or an obligation, a chore that wears me out. No, I love my friend.  When he calls, I go.  When she needs me, I’m there. Not because I have to but because I want to, even and especially when it is inconvenient. I love what my friend gives me, and I want to return that, not keeping up a bargain or making a deal, but simply being generous with my friend.

Joy: My friend makes me happy.  Whether in small things or in large moment, I can share with my friend and I am not alone. My friend can pull me out of the mire when I get bogged down, whether it’s lifting me out of the weeds or pulling my head out of the clouds, and all with gentleness, and compassion, even when I’m an idiot. It’s not that everything is necessarily easier, but that, together with my friend, I can face it, and not just face it but blow it out of the water. Joy is not just happiness or contentment.  Joy is a larger perspective that somehow things will be alright, that someone is on my side looking out for me, that I am not alone.  I can be joyful with my friend, even in sorrow, struggle and challenge. My friend increases my joy.

And all this that we know of our earthly friendships, Jesus takes up into our faith:  I call you friends.Jesus has been vulnerable, generous and joyful with us.  Lavishly so as we hear in our first reading.  God promised to take care of the Israelites and God has done that in Jesus Christ.  But as Peter and Cornelius and the others find out, it’s a whole lot bigger than that. And in our second reading, John reminds us that Jesus allows us the opportunity to be a friend with Him. Our friendship with Jesus is not essentially any different from our other friendships. I can be myself with Jesus, I can spend time with Him, not just reciting prayers or telling Him what I need but time that allows me to get to know Him and Him to get to know me.  I can be who I am with Jesus, on a good hair day and a bad one, when I’m at the top of my game and when I’m not.

Jesus has given me everything that I have and everything I am, all of my talents, gifts, likes, desires.  Jesus appreciates what I give in return, not because I have to but because I want to share, not from obligation or duty but from love, to give of myself, to bring my fears, my confusion, as well as my hopes and joys.  Jesus wants to know all of it, to be with us in everything.  Not a Facebook friend but one actively with us. And Jesus makes my joy complete because I am never alone with Him, I can come back to him.

The love Jesus has for us and the friendship Jesus offers is no less real than what He gave to those first disciples.  Jesus gives us a new situation as He did them, based only on the command to love others as He loved us. It’s not because we’re worthy or because we deserve it or even because we might be good at it. It’s because He loved us, because He chose us, because He wants to be my friend.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Superheroes lately. I’ve spoken often about these super men and women. These are myths of our day, ordinary men and women, the unprepared, the less than optimal transformed to make use of gifts they already have. Bruce Wayne uses his intelligence and his wealth. Diana Prince has her past and her heritage. The Black Panther has his Vibranium and the desire to use it for the good. Tony Stark has his practical inventiveness, the perseverance to focus on a problem and the wealth to finance it all. More simply, Dr. Bruce Banner has only rage against evil. All that these require is a transformation and these gifts that are hidden or latent or undeveloped come to the fore. For some it is a suit of armor, either literal or figurative. For others, a shedding of meekness and timidity and fear.

But once that transformation occurs, LOOK OUT! It’s no wonder why these myths get reinvented in every age, including our own, because they speak not just of who I am but of who I can be, an unlimited power, a great strength of heart and mind as well as body. Ultimately, they also tell the tale of our gospel.  Jesus allows us an even greater transformation than seen in Clark Kent or Diana Prince.

But that transformation doesn’t happen in an instant for us, not in a phone booth (remember those?) not in a bat cave or a penthouse.  No.  Our transformation comes in our friendship with Jesus Christ, how we meet Him, how we spend time with Him.  Time is the only way we can recognize God’s presence and grow a friendship with Jesus. It’s painfully simple but also so painfully difficult and challenging. As with all of our true friendships, there’s no other way to become or to be a friend of Jesus than offering time. To become and to remain a friend of Jesus, we must do the same things we talked about for the last two weeks, the ways we can train our ear to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, the way we remain connected to the vine.

  1. Read sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels.
  2. Become familiar with the rich teachings of the Church, not just a part here or there, looking for that which supports my own agenda, but the whole and rich body of teachings that allow us to meet Jesus.
  3. Reflect in quiet prayer on what you learn.
    4.  Celebrate in public worship. Who you meet and what you learn. And lastly…
    5.  Serve others. Give to others of your time, talent and treasure. See how you can help another meet Christ.

Again, as in the last two weeks, these points bring out a paradox: we can only train our ear for the voice of the Good Shepherd, we can only remain connected to the vine, we can only be a friend to Jesus when we give of ourselves. Only then, that God can call me and I follow; only then that God can bear fruit in and through me, only then that I can be a friend. So simple to understand, yet so difficult to mete out those minutes in the face of routine or, worse yet, problems that arise to interrupt routine.

Jesus has chosen us, because he loves us, each of us, not because we’re perfect, but because He wants me as a friend. He wants to pour out into me His love, not in some namby-pamby, pietistic, theological way but in the day to day, down and gritty of our lives.  Jesus sees in me gifts and talents I may not yet know I have. But when vulnerable, Jesus can help us to unpack them. These are not the gifts of vast wealth, or the ability to fly or build bat computers or become stronger than a locomotive. No, ours are perhaps more simple, even mundane: Using the talents and gifts we already have, that Jesus has already given us, through His love, by His choice, he transforms us not into Superheroes but into friends, friends of Jesus Christ.

A special shout out to our Moms on this Mother’s Day. Moms are all about vulnerability, generosity, and joy.  The older I get, the more I learn from my Mom (even though she went home to the Lord in 2006). I learn from her unconditional love, her kindness, her generosity, her patience (needed much more for my sister and brothers than for her “perfect little Robbie!”). A truly gentle soul, but if someone even thought something bad about her children (or, more strongly about her GRANDchildren) she became a lioness, ready to shred to pieces anyone who would hurt or even malign her children! I learn also as I watch our mothers of all ages here in the pastorate, caring for, protecting, providing for their children. My mother, our mothers, are for me an image of God. Certainly, I do not hesitate to call God “Father,” but I also see God as maternal, caring, tender, gentle. Not that these aren’t also traits of a good father but, in my family, were much more characteristic of my mother.

Make some time for your mom today.  If she is still with us on earth, then visit.  If you can’t visit, then call. If things are tense, patch them over.  If it’s been a long time, swallow your pride. But make contact, express gratitude, share love. And, if your Mom has gone home to the Lord, then pray for her. Pray that she rest in Christ. Pray with her, asking her to continue with you and for you with the help she gave you on earth. Our Moms not only give us life but are one of the most profound ways we can meet Jesus Christ.

Peace,

 

 

Meeting Jesus – Week 2

I am the vine and you are the branches.
– John 15:5

 

My Dear Friends in Christ,

You’d probably know the painting by Norwegian Expressionist, Edvard Munch. One of the most iconic images in art, it’s also entered pop culture through countless memes. Entitled “The Scream,” it depicts an ambiguous figure in agony, mouth agape in horror, hands held up to the face, a red sky swirling about. In 2012, it took only 12 nail-biting minutes and five eager bidders for Sotheby’s Auction House to sell. Bidders, in the room and connected by phone could be heard speaking several different languages as the $40 million starting price shot quickly up the scale. Gasps could be heard as the bidding climbed higher and higher, until a pause at $99 million, which prompted the auctioneer, to smile, “I have all the time in the world.” When $100 million was bid, the audience began to applaud. With the crack of the closing hammer, the final price, with buyer’s premium, was $119.9 million dollars, making it at the time world’s most expensive work of art sold at auction.  (Now, only nine years later, this doesn’t even make the top 10!) A tangible reminder of how and what we value.

I am the vine and you are the branches. Especially in light of all that’s going on, with the pandemic, with riots, and police brutality, abuse in the church, scandals by so many, I’ve been reflecting a great deal lately on what we value and how we assign that value. We may think value is easily assigned by a price tag but, as I reflected in my chapel, I realized more and more that ultimately, I assign value with my time. With that insight, I took a quick look then on what I value as witnessed by the way my time is spent. I must admit that I wasn’t all that impressed with the portfolio that emerged. I spend less time in prayer than I do watching television. I spend less time praising someone and extolling virtue than critiquing even the smallest problem or infraction. I spend more time trying to impress others than working on being the disciple God calls me to be. I spend more time being hurt and alone and angry than I spend reaching out to share with others the Good News I have received. Not very impressive for any Christian, let alone one called to lead others.  It was quite a wake-up call.

Consider this portfolio in light of all Christ calls us to be and to do:

  • to work to form a community that knows, loves, and serves Jesus Christ humbly and joyfully;
  • to serving the struggling, (let alone the extraordinary suffering from the pandemic: exhausted parents, health challenges, financial crises, unemployment, or difficult situations);
  • to building up spiritual resources while allowing God to make the best use of my time, talent and treasure; to speak with the prophetic voice of the Church:
  • so that I welcome all, even and especially those who are different
  • so that I cry out for the dignity of the human person for all people, of all colors, at all stages, in all walks of life,
  • so that I fight against prejudice or intolerance, especially for those on the margin and those facing persecution
  • so that I rightly oppose any injustice that seeks to relegate some, especially those in need, to the back burner, as someone else’s problem, or undeserving of the same privileges we enjoy.

Again, these are only the basics of being a disciple of Jesus, merely the minimum due, the bottom line and I don’t have enough to pay the bill. It’s a startling realization, a splash of cold water in your face, the blaring alarm of a true wakeup call (like those letters from American Express: Mr. Jaskot, we would like to remind you that American Express is a charge card not a credit card.  Please pay your balance in full.) Even as I started to get overwhelmed, I also I came to realize something very important. The challenge isn’t the amount of what I give or do or know or am. God doesn’t care about the amount. After all, it’s easy to pay $120 million for a painting if you’re a billionaire. But I’m not. In fact, I don’t even have $120 million… for a painting or anything else. And I certainly don’t have 120,000,000 minutes which turns out to be about 228 years. No matter how good the science of cryogenics becomes, I can’t imagine that I’ll be around that long. Again, though, the challenge is not what I have but what do I do with what I have, not what I can’t do but what I can.  Further, how do I value what I have? How do I show that value by what I do and what I give?

And there’s a deeper challenge. I can’t do any, let alone all, of this on my own. I need to get help.  I need to meet Jesus, not in some theoretical way, not as a theological concept, not in general. I need to meet Jesus. It is only in meeting Jesus I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

It’s why the continuing saga of Saint Paul really challenged me. He was one smart cookie: a brilliant theologian mixed with a passionate and practical mind. He knew God wanted him to eradicate those heretics claiming Jesus is Lord and changing his beloved Judaism. Then Saul meets Jesus who literally knocks him off his high horse. What Paul knew, better to say thought he knew, was not, in fact, true, let alone what God wanted.  Paul had to leave behind what he knew, move outside his comfort zone, and strip the veneer of his pride.  Then, alone, afraid, and timid, Paul had to be led by the hand to meet Jesus, to see how Jesus would transform him and use him for the good of God’s people and the Church.

Like Saul, far too often, I know what’s right, what God wants, how I should fix things, set things straight.  God had to force me too, force me outside of my comfort zone, get me beyond what I “knew,” to what God wanted. God had to strip the veneer of my pride.

Unlike Saint Paul, though, I spend a whole lot of time holding on to stumbling blocks that keep me from becoming who and what God wants me to be. I struggle as I grasp for what is safe and hold fast to what is comfortable and known. God is still at work, still seeking to meet me, still seeking that in meeting me, to shape me as with Saint Paul.

Here, God reminds me that it is not my work but His and that I am only the means for Him to accomplish it. Like Saint Paul, I often feel alone, afraid, and timid.  Like Saint Paul, I have to be led by the hand to the gentle love of Jesus.  And like Saint Paul, I find that love in the very Christian community I have been called to serve, even if my service is imperfect and limited.

As with last week, Jesus Himself gives us an image of who God is and how God works. Again, Jesus wants us aware of the One we are meeting, that we are not afraid, even in the face of much challenge and darkness, including that of our own making.

I am the vine and you are the branches.  It’s a powerful statement because Jesus uses the same words God used on Mount Sinai: I am.  Moses asks “Who should I say sent me?” God tells him from the burning bush, “Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you.” The term “I Am” most often and only relates to God, appearing over 300 times in the Bible, first in the book of Genesis (15:1) and last in Revelation (22:16). Here in the Gospel of John, Jesus often uses this divine formula. In these important self identifying references, Jesus uses the personal pronoun “I” which would not be necessary in the grammar of the day.

In this way, Jesus emphasizes His own Divine identity and offers us insight into the relationship that God seeks with us. As we heard last week: I am the sheep gate. (10:11) I am the Good Shepherd (10:14). And today: I am the true vine and my Father is the vine dresser (15:1). I am the vine and you are the branches (15:5). Then, like the infomercials of the 1980’s: But wait!! There’s more: I am the Bread of Life (6:35, et. al.); I am the Light of the world (8:12); I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25). I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6). Each of these statements say something about the way God comes to us in Jesus Christ, describing some aspect of Jesus’ divinity.

Taking my own advice, I looked it up and found a fascinating website about John’s Gospel which I often find confusing or unclear. The website, which I have included a link to here is called: Catholic Resources. https://catholic-resources.org/John/Intro.html.

I am the vine and you are the branches also speaks eloquently about the intimate relationship Jesus offers to us and the way we can bear fruit for God and for others. The fruit only comes from branches that are attached to the vine where each of the branches get the nutrients, food and water, that allow it to survive. In this image today, Jesus reminds us pointedly that he seeks to be close to us and, in that closeness, offers us everything we need to survive. More than that, though, Jesus reminds us that this is the origin of any fruit we bear. Before we can achieve anything, even think of achieving anything, indeed even hope to achieve anything, before we can bear any fruit, we must know and love Jesus Christ and remain in him.  Only if we remain in him, we will bear fruit.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. This is a relatively simple declarative sentence. To remain in Jesus, to allow Jesus to remain in us, bears fruit. PERIOD. Now, the “fruit” we are called to bear is not some esoteric theory, not some theological proposition. Remember the image. I am the vine and you are the branches.  What is the fruit of the vine? Grapes! What are grapes used for? Wine. We are called to be wine for others. 

Wine is a symbol of delight and abundance. If bread is the necessary, then wine is the delectable, the over-the-top, the sign of blessing, that God’s love, that the presence of Christ is not only about the basics but about an abundance of grace. Notice though that it’s not the branch who determines what the fruit is or how much will be borne. No, our call is to remain in Jesus and to allow Him to remain in us.  Everything else is up to God.

It’s crystal clear, so abundantly obvious, so elegantly simple. Ah, but it so very painfully challenging, so difficult to achieve at all and let alone to persevere. Remain in me. But, how do we remain in Him? How do we recognize and connect to God’s presence, allow that presence to nourish and grow us as branches, all so that we can bear fruit. The answer is profoundly simple but painfully difficult and challenging: time. There’s no other way to see God’s presence in our lives or to grow that presence, no other way to remain in Him and allow Him to remain in us, but to offer Him your time.

To remain in Jesus, to remain branches connected to the vine, we must do the same things we talked about last week, the ways we can train our ear to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd:

  1. Read sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels.
  2. Become familiar with the rich teachings of the Church, not just a part here or there, looking for that which supports my own agenda, but the whole and rich body of teachings that allow us to meet Jesus.
  3. Reflect in quiet prayer on what you learn.
  4. Celebrate in public worship. Who you meet and what you learn. And lastly…
  5. Serve others. Give to others of your time, talent and treasure. See how you can help another meet Christ.

Notice the paradox: we can only remain connected to the vine, we can only receive from the vine when we give of ourselves. And it is only then, that God can bear fruit in and through me. So simple to understand, yet so difficult to mete out those minutes in the face of routine or, worse yet, problems that arise to interrupt routine.

In the worst way, I wanted it to be something else, I want to meet Jesus in a different way, a way that was beyond me, something that I could say was impossible, something to write off and not be held accountable.  Simply spending time with Jesus in those 5 ways was too simplistic, too easy a solution, something I could set my mind to do even with the difficult follow through.  I wanted something more complicated that would let me off the hook and allow me to remain where I was, allow me to remain just good enough as a disciple and as a pastor.

God gave me the wake-up call and I am passing it along to you.  As disciples, whether pastor or not, we cannot remain complacent.  “Good enough” is not enough and we’ll have to answer for hitting the snooze button and rolling over to ignore the wake-up call. As I said last week, there is no other way to meet Jesus than to allow God to transform us, each one of us.  To surrender myself in these very simple ways is the only way I can meet Jesus.  In that meeting, even if we don’t realize it, we have been blessed by so many graces and gifts.  What’s the value of your relationship with Jesus and how do you show that value? Live that value?  What needs to be pruned from your heart or life to allow God to grow stronger? How will you sacrifice your time to remain in Jesus?  What fruits will God bring from that?  We may not have $120 million to offer but what will we do with what we’ve been given? Let’s make the best of it. I am the vine and you are the branches.


A brief shoutout to our Confirmation candidates who are making their retreat in preparation for the sacramental gift of the Holy Spirit that will be administered in the Fall by one of our bishops. In the past, the retreat has been a powerful catalyst for the Holy Spirit to make inroads to the life and faith of our young people.  Please continue to keep them in prayer, not just this weekend, not only until the Fall but well into the next century. We need to pray for one another, and we need to pray especially for our young people who face so many challenges. I look forward to meeting and interviewing each of them.  It’s truly one of the highlights of my year as I learn so much from them and the way they see the world.  I pray that they come to know ever more fully and abundantly the delight God takes in them and the grace God seeks to share with the world through them. More later, especially as we approach the Fall.

Peace,

 

 

Meeting Jesus – Week 1

I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows
me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
– John 10:14-15

My Dear Friends in Christ,

I LOVE THAT VIDEO! Have you ever struggled for a long time with the details of something complex only to have a simple illustration break it open for you? That’s the way I felt when I first saw this video. I’ve long thought about what it means for Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The shepherd was completely responsible for the sheep: feeding them, leading them, breeding them, keeping them close, protecting them, herding them, even sleeping near them to keep them safe at night; not an easy job and one requiring constant effort.

Along with that, sheep are notoriously dumb animals. They lack any true independence and require help for even the most basic of things, especially over the long run. For example, left to their own devices in a field of grass, the sheep will continue to overeat until the grass is decimated. Then, eventually the sheep will starve because they do not have the capability to understand that there is nothing left to eat and move to another field, even close by, to get food.

I knew all of that, but this video shows something more because it shows a sheep being… well… a sheep. The young shepherd struggling so hard to free the sheep, hearing the sheep’s cry as it got stuck, following the cries for help, helping the sheep out of that fix, protect the sheep from danger. And then boom, right back into it. A sheep isn’t gracious enough to stop and thank the shepherd boy for the effort of pulling him out. A sheep is not coherent enough to take stock and stay far away from the ditch. A sheep isn’t smart enough to gauge the distance of the jump or the width of the ditch. A sheep isn’t wise enough to learn from mistakes of the (even immediate) past. How exasperated the little shepherd boy must have felt.

Something more was nagging at me, though. I couldn’t escape the realization that I am more like the sheep, in that video and otherwise, than I realized or like to admit (let alone care to mention!). I may not be as dumb as a sheep but there are so many times I’m not as smart as I think I am or as I need to be. So often, I find myself in a tight space, a space created by my own stupidity or, more often, my carelessness, my hardheartedness, my unwillingness to listen, my refusal to be humble or admit when I’m wrong.

And God has to work so hard to help me get out of it. Not necessarily pulling my leg (pun intended!) but God has to fight my stubbornness, anger, pride, fear, confusion, and doubt when I get wedged into the ditch of my own unfaithfulness, or lack of trust, or inability to see Christ in another (especially one who challenges me), or becoming too comfortable and just calling “it.” And God tugs and yanks and pulls me free and then I go and jump right back into it, that same space or another one just down the road. Yes, I am far more like that sheep than I care to admit.

But Jesus knows that about me and still claims me as His own, still calls my name, still follows me when I wander, still pulls me out of the ditch, still brings me gently back, still carries me on His shoulders, still rejoices in my being close. Jesus recognizes well that it is the shepherd who does the work, who makes the sacrifice, who commits to the sheep.

And Jesus willingly takes that on, takes US on! Sheep don’t have to get their act together before they approach the shepherd; they don’t have to clean things up or make things right. Sheep need only to learn and know and listen for the voice of their shepherd. Jesus understands this well and shares with us His gentle voice, which allows us to remain close to Him and to the rest of the fold, allows us to be drawn back, helps us to come back, to be led home, to be carried home.

This doesn’t mean that we do nothing and expect God to do everything for us. It does simplify what we need to do, boils what we need to do down to one thing: we need to learn His voice. Jesus wants us to understand how close God seeks to be, how involved God can be in our lives if we allow such involvement, how much God loves us and continues to look out for us – even when it’s only been about 2 minutes since God pulled us out from the last ditch. Jesus wants us to know that God is not distant nor reserved only for the big things in life, the major hurdles or liminal challenges. When we train ourselves to learn and listen for and hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, we can experience the love and concern of God for us, in the most basic of ways and in the most mundane elements of our lives.

Let me get practical for a moment. It’s easy to say that we should know the voice of
our Good Shepherd, but it’s not as easy to understand what that means. Certain things are essential to train the ear of your heart to listen for the Good Shepherd, to recognize and know and follow His voice. Let me list them for you. Not one of these can be ignored if we truly want to hear and know His voice.

  1. Reading Scripture, especially the Gospels. These are the words of God and of our Good Shepherd. The Scriptures, especially the Gospels, are a love note from God, from our Good Shepherd. Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” If we are not grounded in Scripture, we will easily be led astray by other shepherds

    It doesn’t have to be ponderous. Reflect on a few lines every day, not as an intellectual exercise to study the Bible or a drill to build perseverance in getting through. You don’t even have read any more. You can listen to the scriptures. You can get the Bible on Kindle or listen to it on podcast. Father Mike Schmitz with Ascension Press has an excellent FREE podcast: Bible in One Year. He reads a few lines and then helps to break it open by offering some insights. There are other similar items as well utilizing technology. Listen in your car on the way to work (if you still have a commute.)
  1. Study what God has given us in the long and rich tradition of the Church. The teachings of the Church are important resources in conjunction with scripture. So many of the resources are available online and there are great resources about the teachings of the Church and the important truths of our faith.

    Too often we let the media tell us what and why the Church teaches as She does. Or we limit the Church’s teachings by letting someone else push an agenda or focus only on a particular aspect of the faith. So often in our culture and the news we see only one perspective or a single answer to an open question, especially in the hot button issues of today. We need to look at the
    fullness of the Church’s teachings so that we can encounter Christ through them, that we can hear the voice of our Good 
    Shepherd guiding us, rather than a particular person or group offering only part of the message.

    Again, technology helps. So much is available online and free of charge. Recently I noticed one of our young people who seemed to be alive with his faith, excited by the sacraments, eager to be involved and do more. I asked him what brought about this noticeable change. And he said, “Father, have you ever heard of Bishop Robert Barron? I watched one of his videos and it got me to thinking.  Then I watched another one and another and another. It was all so interesting. I learned about our Church, my faith and Jesus Christ.” I was impressed not only with his willingness to pursue his faith but also the way that faith took root in a remarkable way in his life.
  1. Reflect on what you are hearing and learning in quiet prayer.We need to clear our heads to hear God’s voice among the other voices so prevalent in our world and in our hearts as well. We need to be attentive to and intentional about closing out the negative, even toxic voices to allow God’s voice to ring true to sound loudly.

    We spent Lent and the beginning of the Easter Season reflecting on prayer and what it is and what it isn’t, on what it means and what it doesn’t. To learn, listen for and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, we must give Christ time and space in our hearts and lives, talking to and listening for God.
  1. Worship publicly (even if it has to be from home for now.) Dive into the Mass and into the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We just celebrated the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist for the first time with a number of our young people. What a grace it is for me to see these sacraments through their eyes: the excitement, the anxious nervousness, the joy and the hard work.

    I love watching them come to the sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time, some so scared they can barely speak or walk. But as we go through the sacrament, they learn an important dimension of Reconciliation.  It is far more about God’s mercy and forgiveness than it is about my sins.  And I love to see them almost swagger out, having conquered their fear AND experienced God’s mercy. It’s a lesson I hope they remember throughout life.

    And then I love to see them come to First Holy Communion, all dressed up, more excited than nervous now.  But it’s not only about the outfits for them.  They have prepared and practiced , studied and pondered (yes even second graders!). All of that together helps them to realize that this is something important. Sadly, I often take Jesus for granteds.
  1. Serve others. Giving of time, talent and treasure is sometimes the only way I can get outside of my own head, move beyond my own struggles. To focus on serving the other, on giving to the other, necessitates moving beyond myself and, many times, my comfort zone.

    More than that, being with others allows me to see and to hear Christ, especially in the poor and those who suffer, also in the angry and the challenging.  Sometimes I have to struggle a great deal to be aware like this and, sadly, too often I fail.  Sometimes, truth be told, I also fail at times even to try. But when I serve, when I focus on giving to the other, I can hear the voice of Good Shepherd.

Drawing me closer to Christ and allowing Christ to work in and through me is the focus of our new message series. We’re calling it “Meeting Jesus,” because, as with today, Jesus uses different images to describe Himself and our relationship with Him. Through these images, Jesus seeks to welcome us (and allow us to welcome Him), to encounter us (and to allow us to encounter Him), to accompany us (and to allow us to accompany Him) and transform us (and allow us to transform others). Each of these images establishes a relationship where God sacrifices on our behalf, to offer us grace.

I must admit that I struggled with this blog because I wondered if this was addressing something miniscule when so much is going in our world, and indeed, our pastorate. I was struck by the verdict handed down in the trial of former police office Derek Chauvin. It offered accountability in that case, but it is only a beginning to address the many challenges of racism, authority, brutality and violence. I was struck by the number of police officers who rallied around the decision and calls for study, investigation and reform. I was struck by the need to pray for police officers who have been tarred and painted with the same brush. I feel a certain kinship with them because of the analogous situation that happened to priests.

But we must also still pray for change in a system that can allow some of these things to continue even as we pray for changes in the church that allowed the abuse crisis to grow and ferment. I was struck by the challenge still going on at the southern border, children and families still suffering. I was struck by the callous dismissal of and disregard for the sanctity of life, whether it be the harm done to the immigrant child or the increased testing on unborn children and fetal tissue. I was struck by the discrepancy in how we as Americans face the pandemic and how the rest of the world, especially poor and developing nations that are not able to draw on the same resources.  I was struck by the Earth Day preparations, celebrations and the refusal of so many to heed our Holy Father’s call to take care of our earth.

Yes, there is certainly a great deal to preach about and to challenge and to console and to share. But I cannot do any of that, if I am a sheep led astray by another’s voice, or by my own comfort, principles or safety. I cannot do that only from the grazing ground of even my own soap box, my opinion or way of seeing the world and the other. I can only truly do that if I am Christ’s sheep, if I know and hear and follow HIS voice, if I allow Christ to guide me and use me as part of his fold, to be responsible for and with the other sheep, not because I have an axe to grind, a problem to solve, a challenge to face, a roadblock to get around or a hurdle to overcome. No. I can only truly care, serve and advocate for others if I understand them as a fellow sheep and a valued part of the herd. As part of the herd, we are called, no less than those early disciples to go out and share this Good News.

It’s why the Church in the United States focused on this Sunday as vocation Sunday, calling to pray for and with our young people and their families that they may know and be open to God and the delight God takes in them and the plans God has for them.  Please pray for our seminarians and for the work and ministry of Father Steven Roth, our Vocation Director who was so very generous in coming out to celebrate Mass for us when I was away.  It’s also the perfect time to announce that the Archbishop has honored us by assigning Michael Moore, a seminarian for the Archdiocese studying at Pope Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C. Michael is in the college program and is finishing up his junior year at the Catholic University of America.  Michael will be with us only for about 6 – 8 weeks this summer to soak in parish and pastorate life.  It will be a blessing to have him in the parish and at the rectory.  More to come!

One additional thought about this gospel and Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus makes clear in this gospel that ALL sheep are his. A shepherd had his given fold, and the sheep were branded as being part of that fold. We were branded in Baptism as belonging to God’s fold, participating in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, sharing in the Mission to bring the love of God. Jesus references this expressly as He speaks about “mine” and His willingness to lay down His life. But Jesus also goes on to express that those who are not of the fold, who are not branded, who would not necessarily consider themselves as belonging, are still members of His flock. We are a nation and a world struggling with the pandemic, with vitriol and bitterness marking so much of our society, with the scourges of poverty, racism, violence, with the lack of understanding of respect for the other even and especially the weakest and most vulnerable: the unborn child, the prisoner on death row, the sick and the elderly, the immigrant.

These are not problems to be solved, challenges to be faced, hurdles to be overcome. These are the sheep of God’s flock. Doesn’t matter the race, color, class, or creed; Doesn’t matter the stage of life: whether preborn, infant, adolescent, adult or elderly; Doesn’t matter gender, gender identity, or orientation; Doesn’t matter the health or sickness, whether young healthy and vibrant or sickly, elderly, and dying; Doesn’t matter the rank, station, prestige, eminence or significance, reputation, or political affiliation; Doesn’t matter the income, bank account, living condition or job situation; Doesn’t matter the citizenship or legal standing

All of these, each of these, are sheep, with a dignity given by God in whose image and likeness each is created. God wants all of these. Jesus seeks to shepherd each of these. No one is excluded, no one is alone. There is no us and them.  There is only us. Jesus said it himself: There is only one flock and one shepherd. Thank God Jesus also added “I am the good shepherd… and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”

Peace,

 

 

Palm Sunday

“Jesus emptied himself…”
– Philippians 2:7

My Dear Friends in Christ,

It’s an overwhelming Gospel reading. It is filled with strong historical characters involved in dramatic actions. It’s an uncomfortable Gospel dealing with violence and brutality, persecution, and hatred. Even sanitized, it is gruesome and graphic, both about the physical violence and about human nature. It’s about important people misusing power and authority to silence an inconvenient voice and example, to manipulate the crowd, to forward their agenda and get what they want. It is also a familiar story and, in rushing through it, I often miss a great deal of what is there. Sad to say, not just the small things, but important ones that can help unpack how God is at work. And it’s a long story, the length of which opens many doors for distraction.

There are many ways we can look at it: exegetical analysis of the scriptural text; scientific analysis of the physical descriptions of activity and bodily harm; psychological analysis of the major players, good and bad, and how they respond; historical analysis seeking to get to the truth of what actually happened; and, literary analysis of the text. All of these factors tend to distract me from the heart of the matter: this gospel is ultimately a love story. It is a love story of and from one who is infinitely creative, stridently determined, incredibly focused, strikingly vulnerable, pointedly gentle even in the face of violence and mockery. Ultimately, it is a love story that focuses on one who is absolutely generous, and open in what he offers: Himself.

Use what I call the 7/7 rule: Take 7 minutes each day over the next 7 days to pray. Objectively, it’s not a long time and surely you can find it. Spend the first minute telling God where you are, and the last minute asking God for what you need. But leave the 5 minutes in between for God. Allow God to delight in you and strengthen you. I guarantee you that God will make use of the time you offer if you can focus on your offer rather than the reward. Together, let us pray for one another and for all those who will come to encounter Christ during this Lent. Pray that through the intercession of Saint Joseph they might be cared for and watched over by the God who loves us and draws us close.

Peace,

 

 

Even Now… Week 5

“Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
– John 11:27

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Every time I hear the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, I think of Martha stomping out to meet Jesus. She’s hurt, she’s angry, she’s grieving, she feels the separation that comes in death, the death that took her brother from her. Jesus was their very good friend and would visit them, share their hospitality, teach them and speak to them of God’s love. As soon as Lazarus got sick, they had sent word to Jesus, fully expecting I am sure, that Jesus would at the very least come and spend time with Lazarus if not work one of the miracles He had so easily worked in other places. Nope, he hadn’t come even though he was in the next town over. And now Martha has received word that Jesus and His Apostles are coming, coming only NOW that Lazarus is dead and has been dead for four days.

But Martha has learned her lesson. Remember the earlier visit of Jesus to their house (Luke 10:38–42)? Martha wanted to show Jesus the extent of her love and so was working very hard to prepare the best that she could offer. But in trying to do too much, and focusing on what she wanted to do, even for the good of another let alone for Christ, she had lost sight of the bigger picture. In trying to be good, in trying to do great things for God, she had let her heart get hard, like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. She was hurt and angered by her sister, the lazy slug who just sat there at the feet of Jesus and soaked in all that He was offering. She even cried out, “Jesus, tell her to help me!

In her smugness, in doing what she thought was right she must’ve been shocked with the answer Jesus gave her. Remember, Jesus castigated her, telling her that she was anxious and upset about many things. And if that weren’t bad enough, Jesus even holds up Mary as an example: “Only one thing is required. Mary has chosen the better part and it shall not be denied her.”  It must have stung her, a proud woman who sought only to serve but, in the process, hardened her heart to the presence of God in her midst. She was more focused on doing things than
on being present to God and, just as importantly, allowing God to be present to her. Yes, it must have stung, especially in the presence of her sister. But Martha did learn her lesson and learned it well.

Notice that Martha and Mary are receiving guests when they hear the Jesus has been
sighted and is on his way. In fact, they have a house full of guests and I bet both were active in making sure that their guests were greeted properly, made to feel at home, and given something to eat or drink. When Mary hears, she remains there in the house doing what she was before. But Martha having learned her lesson sets out to get close to Jesus. Jesus had told her to come, close, to remain close, to allow nothing to distract her nor let anything be a barrier for her. And so Martha storms out of the house to meet Jesus. I can almost hear the Imperial March that was played whenever Darth Vader came on the scene in the Star Wars movies. Even knowing that it’s only a piece of music from a movie soundtrack, that song evokes in me more than a modicum of fear just like the music from Jaws when the shark is near.

Martha is suffering. Her brother is dead and nothing will bring him back. Jesus didn’t come, couldn’t be bothered until now when it’s too late. And so, just as He told her, she is going to be close to Him and give him a piece of her mind. She knows that Jesus is her good friend, that she has a strong relationship with him. She has faith that he could have done something and she’s angry that He didn’t come. And when she gets to Jesus, there are none of the niceties that one usually offers to a friend one hasn’t seen in a while. There is no “Oh, Jesus, so nice to see you. So glad that you’re here and your presence means so much to me and to Mary. We’re really struggling with this one, not just the loss of Lazarus, but the fact that you didn’t come and you ignored us and our pleas for help.”

Nope! Martha dives right in: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  It’s a statement of fact offered without any hesitation, without any qualification. She knows that Jesus could have, and certainly in her mind and heart should have, done something for her brother if not for her. And her faith doesn’t stop there either. “Even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” There are those words again… even now.” It’s the title of our message series and we named it that to remind us that God always receives us. Here, though, Martha also reminds us that it is never too late to call on God. Despite the finality of her brother’s death, Martha calls on Jesus. “Even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” In other words, “Fix it!” “Do something!” “I’m hurting, Jesus! Help me!”

Remember, Martha doesn’t know that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. She doesn’t know what can be done. She only knows that she is suffering and in pain, that her brother is gone. She is sure that Jesus cannot only be with her in her pain and suffering but also do something to relieve it, and not just for her but for her sister as well. Jesus responds by reminding Martha that like all good disciples, Lazarus will rise on the last day, that Lazarus will be close to God and share in the eternal banquet. As good as this is, for Lazarus, Martha struggles with what seems so distant and trivial in the face of her loss and separation. “I know that he will rise on the last day,” Martha offers immediately with the implication that this isn’t enough at least for her at least for now.

What I love about the gentle response of Jesus is that He does not leave Martha in her suffering. Jesus had told her to remain close to Him, to come to Him and to offer to Him the gift of her presence. She has done that in coming out to meet Him. Jesus senses so profoundly her pain and loss that come with the death of a loved one. Jesus himself will be overwhelmed by this same pain in just a little while when He is reminded of the death of His good friend, Lazarus. He will weep as He feels the loss and separation of death. It is just this barrier that He came to destroy so that nothing would keep us from knowing God’s love even on this earth.

With all gentleness, Jesus works the day’s first miracle. It is not as cosmic or dramatic as the raising of Lazarus from the dead but, I would argue, is even more essential. Jesus allows Martha to see the presence of God for her, with her, close to her even and especially in her suffering, in her pain, and her loss. More than simply being present, Jesus helps Martha to understand the point he made with the apostles at the beginning of the gospel. Remember, Jesus said very clearly to the apostles as soon as word reached them of Lazarus being sick. In fact, Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead but does not immediately go back to Martha and to Mary. Jesus wants to bring good out of the suffering: the suffering of the sickness of Lazarus as well as the suffering of grief and loss in Martha and Mary.

Jesus wants to make clear that God is present, that God loves us, and that God always has a plan for our good, even and especially in our pain and our suffering, even and especially when times are difficult, even and especially when it seems that prayers go unanswered or that cries go without help. “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who was coming into the world.”

This is the first miracle and, as I stated before, I think the more important one on that day. Martha is brought to the realization of who God is and how God works. She comes to believe in and understand God who is close and gentle and kind and looking out for her and filled with love for her and, indeed, for her brother and for their sister. Just as Peter, James, and John did at the Transfiguration, Martha sees the divinity of God in the humanity of Jesus and how close God seeks to be, how much God loves her, how cared for she is. Martha knows that her faith in Jesus will be rewarded. She doesn’t understand how, and she doesn’t know when, but she firmly believes that Jesus is God, the one God sent to save not just her, but the whole world. More than that, she is safe in his hands. And she seeks to share this Good News even in the face of death, even though her suffering is not ended, even though her pain and loss have not yet been healed.

In a way that she never thought possible, Jesus will reward Martha’s faith even further, giving her and all those present an insight of all that God seeks to do for each of us. Jesus goes beyond simply helping Martha to come to a deeper understanding of who God is and how God works. It’s only after Martha has come to her deeper faith, Jesus takes her and Mary to the tomb of Lazarus. Here is where Jesus weeps, where he is overwhelmed by the awesome power of death. And Jesus brings all of this to His Heavenly Father, to our Heavenly Father. Jesus cries out over the despair and loss of death, cries out over the chasm that separates earth from heaven, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you have sent me.”

In His Person, Jesus bridges these two worlds, these two realities. Jesus is fully God with the “mighty hand and outstretched arm” that brought Israel through the Red Sea as if on dry land, through the desert, feeding them and watering them the whole time, clearing for them the Promised Land and then gently placing them there as His people. But Jesus is also fully human, fully aware of the resounding and imposing barrier that death creates. So, Jesus moves beyond His weeping and cries out to God, not in desperation but in love and trust. “Lazarus, come out!”

All of our readings today speak of the realities of life and death, of the great chasm that separates earth from heaven, of the smaller but no less insurmountable obstacles that come in our sinfulness, our weakness, our confusion, our pain, our fear, our doubt. Like Martha, we are called to bring all of that Jesus and to do so with the love and trust that Jesus showed in the love and trust that he miraculously gave to Martha. God may not answer our questions and the way that we want. Scratch that, God most likely will not answer our prayers in the way that we want or in our timeframe. The way that God works may be inscrutable and unnoticed by us. It may seem that things are only getting worse and that God is ignoring us, or worse yet, punishing us.

Like Martha, we are called to bring everything to Christ even our anger and our hurt and our pain and allow God to be at work, to do only what God can do. As Jesus did with Martha, God seeks to bring us beyond our pain and suffering to recognize His Presence, His love for us, and the reality of His plan that will bring good even out of our suffering. When we allow Jesus to help us recognize how close God is and  how much God loves us, we can begin to allow Jesus to move our hearts as He did for Martha, that we too might recognize, even in our pain-and-suffering, the Messiah sent to be with us, to help us, and to carry us over the chasm to our Heavenly Father. Only then, can we hear Jesus calling out to us as He did for Lazarus, calling us from sinfulness and death to new life and hope, Jesus telling the Church to untie us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to set us free.

Spend some time this week trying to be Martha. She is a strong woman with a powerful personality. In certain circles, her name designates a true Type A personality. She is active in seeking the Lord, in discerning God’s will and even in allowing God to correct her and to move her. When faced with suffering and anger and hurt and pain and loss, she storms out to meet Jesus. We can be no less active, no less forceful than she in approaching Jesus. This is what prayer is all about. Martha doesn’t go to Jesus with a specific plan of what God must do to ease her pain and alleviate her suffering. No, she simply goes out to Jesus to bring it all to Him. She makes herself vulnerable, unsure of what she needs, and open to what God is doing and will do for her. She goes to Jesus with a broken heart and a strong faith. With her, we can say, “Lord, if you had been here this never would’ve happened. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Like her, we can ask God to fix it, but like her, we must also allow God to work as God will rather than as we do. It’s not easy, but God can do it, will do it, if you allow Him to be at work. It’s hard to be vulnerable, to cede control, to appear weak, to feel helpless, but when we do, God can be at work.

Use what I call the 7/7 rule: Take 7 minutes each day over the next 7 days to pray. Objectively, it’s not a long time and surely you can find it. Spend the first minute telling God where you are, and the last minute asking God for what you need. But leave the 5 minutes in between for God. Allow God to delight in you and strengthen you. I guarantee you that God will make use of the time you offer if you can focus on your offer rather than the reward. Together, let us pray for one another and for all those who will come to encounter Christ during this Lent. Pray that through the intercession of Saint Joseph they might be cared for and watched over by the God who loves us and draws us close.

Peace,

 

 

Feast of Saint Joseph

Get up, take the child and his mother.
– Matthew 2:13

My Dear Friends in Christ,

As you may know, our Holy Father Pope Francis has called a special Holy Year dedicated to Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus.  This Holy Year coincides with the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Saint Joseph as the Patron Saint of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis indicated why this special Holy Year was so especially appropriate during the pandemic.

Pope paragraph

With his feast coming up on Friday, March 16, 2021, and with the special Mass and Eucharistic Holy Hour that we are holding that day at 9:00 am, I wanted to share some thoughts about Saint Joseph.  I re-read the Holy Father’s document and found it much more profound than what I was thinking on my own to share with you. Therefore, I’m going to share it with you in full below.

As part of the Holy Family, Saint Joseph is one of the principal patrons of our pastorate and we have a special hold on him along with Mary and Saint Francis. Together, these saints look out for and protect us. I am especially intrigued by how close Saint Joseph is and how much an example he is for any of us, especially for me.  In his quiet, humble, gentle service, Saint Joseph is active in discerning God’s will, gentle in treating others (even and especially those who seem to have wronged him); Saint Joseph trusts fully and faithfully in God’s will, and puts his whole being in service to that will. Truly Saint Joseph is a model of leadership and service so necessary today.

Saint Joseph is also patron of husbands and father who, as Pope Francis repeatedly points out, always put Jesus and Mary’s good above his own. I see so much of this in our own fine parents of every age looking out for their sons and daughters. I love to watch the young dads play with their kids all the while keeping them safe and looking out for them.  It’s such a great reminder to me, an image of our loving Heavenly Father who does the same with us.

During this year of Saint Joseph, let us pray for one another, for all fathers, for all husbands, for all those who serve, for all those who lead, for all immigrants, for all workers, for all who are poor, for all who are struggling to feed their family. Let us invoke the powerful intercession of Saint Joseph who in gentle, humble love helped to form Christ’s image of the Father and shape His love for us.

Peace,

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Even Now… Week 4

” ‘I do believe, Lord.’ And the man worshipped Jesus.
– John 9:38

My Dear Friends in Christ,

PROLOGUE:01Picture1
   It’s a play in three acts:
   1. Encounter;
   2. Setback;
   3. Peace (ESP)

Act 1. ENCOUNTER

Setting:
               Picture it: Jerusalem 33 AD, on the outskirts, on a road leading into the city. A beggar born blind sits at the side of the road; blind from birth, all he can do is beg. Jesus is on the move with His disciples who are troubled by the seemingly random and unfair suffering of the man’s situation.

Action:
               As Jesus is passing by, he notices the beggar at the side of the road. Unasked, Jesus heals the man’s earthly blindness, using the opportunity to suggest that God is present, God cares, and that God has a plan to bring good out of suffering. Jesus proclaims Himself the Light of the World, seeking to bring light into the darkness of the situation and of the world.

02Picture1      03Picture1

Act 2. SETBACK

SCENE 1

Setting:
               Picture it: the same area on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Confusion reigns over the man’s identity. 

Action:
               The townsfolk are concerned, confused. The reality before them of this man being able to see is shocking. Jesus is identified only as “that man,” and is of unknown origin. Seeking answers, the townsfolk turn to the Pharisees, asking questions, speaking of miracles. They bring the man along as Exhibit A.

SCENE 2

Setting:
               Picture it: Pharisee Headquarters, Jerusalem 33 AD. The Pharisees are confronted with a miraculous healing. Something out of the ordinary has happened and is not under their control. They don’t like it and seek to reduce it to “Fake News.”

Action:
              04Picture1 The seeing man who had been blind is questioned and the Pharisees immediately seek to reduce the event to something they can understand. They overlook the ability to see with questions about policy and procedure, about the Sabbath and the rules. The Pharisees are divided over what all of this means. The man is not cowed by their challenges nor swayed by their attempts to dismiss it. The man is expelled from the headquarters as nothing but a charlatan.

SCENE 3

Setting:
              05Picture1Picture it: Pharisee Headquarters, Jerusalem 33 AD, a little while later. The Pharisees are divided over how the healing happened and what it means. God cannot work in ways outside of the law, yet this seems to be a work of God. The man’s parents have been subpoenaed and are being questioned.

Action:
               The man’s parents are intimidated and petrified of what might happen. The Pharisees are very powerful and control the religious, social, and legal systems. Rather than say something that might self-incriminate, they plead the 5th and throw their son under the bus. “Ask him.”

SCENE 4

Setting:
               Picture it: Pharisee Headquarters, Jerusalem 33 AD. The whole “parent fiasco” has backfired, bringing no solution or conclusion. The only thing left is to browbeat the man into submission and silence.

Action:
               Unable to dispute the facts, The Pharisees begin attacking Jesus ad personam. Jesus is scorned as a sinner who doesn’t (can’t?!) follow the rules, rejected as a prophet or a possible messenger of the Almighty, Most High, Most Benevolent. Utter disdain is heaped on the man who would entertain such thoughts. Again, the man is undeterred and more than a little hot under the collar because they refuse to address anything that is important. He returns their attack using their own words and concepts against them, tying them to Jesus who is identified by the man as coming from God. The Pharisees, finding this deeply offensive, call security and the man is physically ejected from Headquarters.

Act 3. PEACE

Setting:
                Picture it: Jerusalem 33 AD, a busy city street, just outside of Pharisee Headquarters. The street is filled with busy people moving to and fro, eager merchants hawking wares, squeegee boys looking for the next chariot windshield to clean. The man has just been ejected from headquarters and is blinking at the bright daylight, after feeling trapped and questioned in the holding cell.

Action:
               “Psst.  Hey kid! Come over here. I wanna’ talk to you.” The man is summoned by Jesus who, again unasked, has sought the man out for a second encounter. Jesus is worried about the man, that the setback may have challenged him too much or pushed him over the edge. After all, it’s not every day that one gets thrown under the bus by one’s own parents.
               “Do you believe in the Son of Man? The Messiah?! The One sent by God to save the world??!!” Jesus questions, seeing where the man is, hoping to help the man to a deeper faith. “Who is he?” asks the man who feels the tug of faith but is pretty shaken by all that’s happened since he met Jesus the first time. Jesus answers that not only is He Himself the Messiah but that in Jesus God is with the man, talking to the man, strengthening the man’s faith, giving eternal life to the man.
               Right there in the street, among all the passersby, the man drops to his knees, landing in the muck and other assorted dirtiness in the street. The man worships Jesus. With this act, Jesus is identified and revealed as God!

EPILOGUE 
              012-Picture1The man gets far more than he bargained for, especially since he didn’t need to bargain, let alone haggle over the final outcome! He receives not only earthly sight, relief from his suffering, and a full life with options increased beyond begging. He receives the light of faith and the opportunity to share eternal life along with a lifetime membership in the FOJ club (that’s Friends of Jesus club).
               “I am the Light of the world.” Jesus self-reveals as the One sent by God into the world to bring light into darkness. The man born blind is a metaphor for each of us, born into the blindness of original sin. Jesus seeks us out, seeks to heal us, to strengthen us. We will be challenged not only to recognize Him, but also to live out the faith He shares with us.  We will be challenged even by those we love.  People will not understand. We will not fully understand. We will have to keep coming back to Jesus for more clarity, better understanding, increased options and a fuller life.
               This play in three acts (ESP) demonstrates what God wants to do with us in prayer. It is God who draws close, who seeks us out, offers us healing. We need to receive Christ and all that Christ offers of God’s grace and healing. It’s not a one-shot deal. We’ll still have questions and need to allow encounters with Jesus over and over and over and over and over again to deepen our faith and our understanding. We will need to pass through many challenges undeterred even as we are scared and shaken, even as we struggle. Remember ESP:            

Encounter (with Jesus who seeks to heal us)

Setbacks (will happen, but Jesus is close, and seeking you out even as they do!)

Peace (comes as we allow Jesus to encounter us repeatedly as we worship)

               To get to the revelation of Jesus Christ as God Present to us, the one speaking with us and to be able to worship, we will need to allow Jesus to take top billing and we need to make sure that we give Him the starring role, even in our lives. Even now.

Peace,

 

 

Even Now… Week 3

Could he possibly be the Messiah?
– John 4:29

My Dear Friends in Christ,

We talked on Ash Wednesday about WHY we pray. It is part of the tradition of Lent that Jesus Himself gave to us of prayer and fasting and almsgiving. More than simply telling us to pray, we learned that this season is about renewing our relationship with God, who seeks to be with us, to draw us close, to remind us of who God is and how God works: that EVEN NOW, no matter where we are or what we’ve done, no matter how distant we’ve become or how angry we feel, EVEN NOW, God seeks us out. God seeks us out to build and grow that friendship, recognizing each of us as a beloved daughter or son.

Then on the First Sunday of Lent, with Jesus being tempted in the desert, we learned that prayer helps us to fight temptation by reminding us of who we are. Satan tempts Jesus most insidiously by trying to get Jesus to doubt; doubt His relationship with our heavenly Father; doubt His ability to fulfill the mission entrusted to him by the Father; doubt His willingness to suffer all that will come and remain faithful. The only way Jesus can fight these temptations is to maintain and strengthen His relationship with God. Prayer helps us to do that.

And then last week, we saw that relationship confirmed in the Transfiguration of Jesus. This is my beloved son. The glory of God, God’s awesome power, God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm, the brilliance of God’s love all shining palpably through the humanity of Jesus. In this gift, even misunderstood, Peter comes to realize that It is good that we are here. This mountain-top moment when God’s Presence is undeniable is to strengthen Peter and James and John to face those times God seems distant or absent.         

And now, let’s take a look at what we do in prayer, to pray, and how we pray.

Jesus comes.
Jesus engages.
Jesus forgives.
Jesus teaches.
Jesus sends.

Jesus comes.

It’s out of the way, and, in fact, it’s anathema for any good Jew: Samaria, the town of Sychar, Jacob’s well. You see Jews hated Samaritans (and vice versa!) and had for almost a thousand years. The Kingdom of Israel was originally made up of all the twelve tribes of Israel, each tribe founded by one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The kingdom reached its zenith under King Solomon, the son of King David but split along political lines after that into the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah. The animosity between the Jews (inhabitants of the Judah, the southern kingdom) and Israelites began immediately after the division, as Samaria was the capital city of the northern kingdom. Later, after Israel’s fall to the Assyrians, they began to intermarry with the Assyrians which is why the Jews hated the Samaritans as “dogs,” or “half-breeds.”

Jesus is on his way home from Judea to Galilee. Since the Jews (good ones at least) avoided Samaria, they would go far out of the way to go around Samaria, bypassing the whole region. Jesus takes the more direct route and passes through Samaria, not because He’s lazy but because, as we’ll see, He has a mission. Even still the trek home was a three day walk in the hot sun. John tells us in the Gospel that it is the sixth hour. If the first hour was at sunset, then the 6th hour was roughly around noon, lunchtime, and the hottest part of the day. Since it’s lunch time, Jesus and the Apostles stop for a break at Jacob’s Well. Jacob’s Well was a popular watering hole (get it?!) and locals came to get their daily supply of water and to see their friends and catch up on the town gossip. The Apostles leave Jesus to go get some food. Unusual that they all go, but Jesus has a plan. At noon, the well was pretty much devoid of activity; most got their water earlier in the day or later in the evening, when it was cooler, avoiding the high heat and the penetrating sun. Thus, Jesus comes to be sitting alone at the well at the sixth hour. But he is not alone for long.

A woman comes to draw water??  Why would she be there at the heat of the day??  To do the backbreaking work of filling a large jug and then carrying it home?? She’s there because she knows that no one else will be there. You see, she’s a woman, strike one in Jesus’s day. She’s a Samaritan; strike two and, as we’ll come to see, she is a great and very public sinner, flouting the rules about marriage and what’s important, the butt of people’s jokes. It’s not surprising, then, that she comes at noon because she knows that no one else will be there. She wants to slink in, get her water, and then slink back out, avoiding the locals and their harsh judgment. Even more devastating is that perhaps, she thinks they are right.

She must have been upset then, to see Jesus there, foiling her plan. Then, she’s startled, even shocked as Jesus begins to speak to her. Anyone of her strikes would prevent others from engaging with her, let alone all three. But not Jesus. Jesus puts aside social convention, judgment, and prejudice to engage her.

Jesus engages.

“Give me a drink.” – It’s one of my favorite scripture passages (although in context it’s not as funny as a standalone line!). He doesn’t castigate her, ignore her, berate or disdain her. He doesn’t talk theology or esoterica above her reasoning or beyond her situation in life. He doesn’t talk about the weather or ask about her family. He doesn’t talk about the latest movie or asked if she’s read the new bestseller. Jesus cuts through everything else and engages the woman where and as she is. She isn’t ready to discuss the important things; she doesn’t know let alone trust Jesus. He knows this, so He starts with something simple. Whatever the case, Jesus simply asks her to give Him a little bit of what she has in great abundance.

You can imagine her being somewhat torn: angered that her plan for an anonymous strike has been foiled but also a sense of joy that someone is engaging her, perhaps only because he doesn’t know who she is. She leaves both behind and focuses on the question at hand. She answers with what she has learned, both from history and from her own life: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” And so, it begins. From this inauspicious beginning, the dialogue continues, allowing an encounter with Jesus. But, much like the infomercials of the 1980s, Jesus tells her: Wait, there’s more. Jesus is offering much, much more than He’s asking for; Jesus offers her living water that she’ll never thirst again. As it often happens, at least with me, she thinks too small about His offer. She only wants the living water so that she never has to come back to this well again and avoid the people completely. But again, “Wait there’s more!” Jesus wants something more, something so much greater FOR her than anything He is asking FROM her.

Although somewhat stylized and brief, this back and forth represent that Jesus engages her, puts Himself in relationship with her, continues to answer questions and to draw her closer and more deeply into relationship with Him. He wants her to know Him and to trust Him, to know that He loves her even as she is known by Him. This is not some casual encounter, or some idle banter. Jesus is at work deepening bonds of friendship and love and trust that will allow God to work with her, for her, and then THROUGH her for others. Only when Jesus has established a relationship with, only once He has her trust, only once she knows of His care for her does he delve daintily into what was most likely in the forefront of her mind with Jesus and with anyone else she meets, what is certainly for the local yokels her defining element, her sinfulness.

Jesus forgives.

Go call your husband. It is only once they are in relationship that Jesus moves forward to what everyone else would have considered front and center: her sinfulness. In the same way that Jesus did not allow social standing, political ideology or historic animosity to stand in his way of reaching this woman, neither, will he allow her sinfulness to stand in his way of his offering and her accepting God’s love. Jesus wants to free her from that sinfulness, free her from those limitations, liberate her from accepting the judgement of others in favor of God’s judgement for her.

Jesus doesn’t want to forgive her only to stop her from sinning. He wants to liberate her from the burden of sin, help her to know the delight God takes in her and help her to become the woman she wants to be. And this is ultimately what Jesus teaches her.

Jesus teaches.

“I am he, the one speaking with you.” Jesus did not come merely to engage her nor merely to forgive her, so that she can move on with her life. Jesus wants something so much greater for her, even greater than she imagines or even thinks possible. Whatever her situation, whatever led her to struggle, whatever her state of mind or heart or life, Jesus comes to her to let her know that God is close, that God wants to be with her, to delight in her, to help her, to strengthen her. Jesus teaches by His Presence and by His words that God loves and cares and has a plan that God comes to us, that we are not alone. Through His searching her out as she seeks to avoid everyone, through His engaging her when no one else would bother, through His challenges for her, through His address of her sins, through His forgiveness, Jesus has taught her how close God is, that to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is to worship in spirit and in truth. To worship in spirit and in truth, truly to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, is a life changing thing, accepting the truth of God’s love for us and allowing God’s Spirit of love to reign in our hearts and in our lives. And this is ultimately why Jesus comes to the woman and what Jesus does for her.

Jesus sends.

Jesus has come, engaged her, forgave her and taught her also so that she could share God’s love. Immediately following their conversation, the woman leaves her water jug and runs into town to the very people she was avoiding earlier. And she begins to preach. She doesn’t quote scripture, spout theology, expound philosophy, or teach morals. She simply shares her experience and invites the people to do the same. “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.”

You can almost imagine their indignation as she begins to speak to them. Who the heck does she think she is? What right does she have to tell us anything? Rather than avoid it, or hide it, or dance around, the woman begins her testimony with her sinfulness. She hadn’t fooled Jesus or hid anything. Like those townspeople, Jesus knew her and her sinfulness. But his response was not like theirs. She’s not sure what has happened, but she knows that something, everything has changed. She can’t explain it, she can’t define. She can only ask a question “Could he possibly be the Christ?” And those listening, they who know her and have judged her by her sinfulness sense that something is different.  Her words, her witness, is so powerful that even despite her being a very poor and disreputable carrier, the message is received, and they go out to encounter Jesus on their own.

And this is what we do when we pray. Prayer is not about getting something, or even getting something out of it. We simply need to offer to Christ a little of what we have, not water but time and energy and attention and effort. And Jesus will do the rest. Concentrate only on the time and effort, the attention and energy, the openness and vulnerability that you offer to God. Prayer is an offering you make to God. Sure, we can ask for what we want, but when we will only accept a particular outcome, we limit God. Remember the woman only wanted water but she got freedom in this life and a shot at eternity. God had much bigger plans for her, bigger than even a lifetime supply of water or indoor plumbing to bring it to her. This is why, when we pray, we need only remember this Gospel and how Jesus does all of the work.

Jesus comes.  TO YOU.

Jesus is seeking you out and wants to come to you. All that you need to do is be available. All you have to do is be available, open, vulnerable. Easy but not necessarily comfortable, Good but not nice. We need to be passive before the Lord, allow space to encounter Christ. Spend time being passive before the Lord. But, if you are anything like me, it is difficult to be passive, and I find myself having to work very hard to set the stage of my mind and heart to be passive.

Jesus engages. YOU.

Jesus not only comes but engages her, meets her where she is, as she is and then talks to her on her level. Notice that Jesus does not solve her problems or provide her with a reading list. He engages her though, answers her questions, deepens the conversation and allows faith to grow. In fact, some of the answers Jesus gives raises new but more important questions for her: “Could he possibly be the Christ?” In engaging us, as with the woman at the well, Jesus is not castigating us nor, at the other end of the spectrum, simply seeking our comfort or making everything nice. Jesus does not attack, does not judge, does not confront her. The encounter is about inviting us to know and to share God’s love, about leading us to experience that love in the forgiveness of sins and in the joy of God’s mercy. Jesus wants each of us to recognize ourselves as God does, a beloved child in whom God is well pleased. And how does Jesus engage us today, what he did in person with the woman at the well. Jesus engages us through sacred scripture where we hear the words that Jesus used. Jesus engages us through the teachings of the Church that challenge us to recognize in ourselves and one another the dignity of a child of God. Jesus engages us through books and art and science, stirring questions in our minds, feelings in our hearts, calling us to live and reach more deeply. Jesus even engages now through the news, positive or negative, that can help us question what we think and accept for norms and givens.

Jesus teaches. YOU.       

Jesus does not teach some dull theology or inscrutable philosophy. Rather Jesus teaches us about Himself, how close God is, how much God loves us and how close God wants us. Jesus teaches us of revelation, of who He is and how God works. And, Jesus teaches us about forgiveness.

Jesus forgives YOUR SINS.

Jesus did not simply get the woman to stop sinning to make her an upstanding citizen. Jesus wants the same for you, even if you aren’t looking for it or don’t think it’s possible. In grace and with mercy Jesus wants you to know God’s goodness for all, of God’s delight in you. Jesus wants you to be healed and to help you recognize your own worth.          

Jesus sends YOU.

All other things lead up to the woman’s going back into town. Jesus comes not simply to make good little sheep but people of boldness, joy, excitement, courage, to be someone who is palpably changed, substantially different. Jesus doesn’t want us to quote scripture, spout theology, expound philosophy, or teach morals. God simply asks us to share our experience with Jesus and then invite other people to do the same. “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.” It is God who will give us the right things to say and the ability to be convincing, despite our being an unreliable witness.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux once called prayer “a surge of the heart, a simple look turned towards heaven…” a cry of recognition and of love embracing both trial and joy. Thérèse was an amazing saint. She died at only 24 but was recognized even in her own day as a saint. She entered the convent at only 17, wanting to be a priest. She never traveled further than a few miles from her home yet wanted to be a missionary. She wanted to go out and do great things for God but was limited by her health. It was through her prayer, her turning over both trial and joy, indeed her whole life to God that she was able to realize the delight God took in her, where she was, as she was. He revealed to her what she called the Little Way, to stand and bloom where you are planted, to see in every task, every duty an opportunity to serve God and to do so joyfully. Only possible but eminently doable with God’s help.

And this is what we pray for Dawn and Jen and Liz in just a moment, that they, too, can meet God, that they, too, can encounter Christ, that they, too, can know forgiveness and not be limited by sin, that they can be sent out as effective preachers of the gospel, announcing their experience of God’s love and forgiveness. In just a minute, we’ll pray for them, asking God to help them remember their sinfulness but, as with the woman, remembering that sinfulness only to offer forgiveness and love. That will come in a sacramental way in the waters of baptism.

Take some time this week, to reflect on our Gospel. Seek the presence of God. Remember that any time, all time you give to prayer is good, a gift to God. Don’t be stymied by distraction but keep remembering that Jesus comes TO YOU. Jesus seeks to engage YOU. Jesus wants to forgive YOUR SINS. Jesus teaches YOU. Jesus sends YOU OUT to share the good news of YOUR EXPERIENCE of God and God’s love FOR YOU. Be like the woman at the well, courageous and bold, simple and convincing in preaching Jesus Christ and the living water God seeks to give. You won’t be sorry. Rather, concentrate on offering something to God. Even now.

Use what I call the 7/7 rule: Take 7 minutes each day over the next 7 days to pray. Objectively, it’s not a long time and surely you can find it. Spend the first minute telling God where you are, and the last-minute asking God for what you need. But leave the 5 minutes in between for God. Allow God to delight in you, strengthen you. I guarantee you that God will make use of the time you offer if you can focus on your offer rather than the reward. Together, let us pray for one another and for all those who will come to encounter Christ during this Lent. Pray that, through the intercession of Saint Joseph they might be cared for and watched over by the God who loves us and draws us close.

Peace,