Find below a homily that Pastor Dick Dahl gave in my absence on October 1, 2017. My apologies for the lateness. Pastor Dick has given us a wonderful message as always–Enjoy!
I often find myself saying or reading the liturgy as one might read a book. The words flow, but the richness and depth of their meaning can be just skimmed over, rather than slowly savored and appreciated. I find the following words in today’s liturgy utterly amazing when I stop to think what they really mean:
The opening Antiphon, for example, speaks of God’s “greatness of heart.” Who comes to mind in your life whom you would describe as having “greatness of heart”? Obviously the words of the Antiphon are having us unconsciously transfer our experience of such a person to our awareness of God.
The Antiphon goes on to ask that we be treated with God’s “unbounded kindness”—not just kindness, but unbounded kindness—no boundaries based on our worthiness, the strength of our faith. God’s kindness is not based on us, or on our behavior, but on the very nature of our God.
The opening Prayer today speaks to God who shows us “mercy and forgiveness” and who does so “continually!” Have you ever asked someone to forgive you? Has someone ever asked you to forgive them? Have you given or sought that forgiveness “continually?” This is what we acknowledge God does for us.
The prayer also asks that we be “filled.” What do we ask to be filled with? “Your gifts of love.” What are gifts of love in your life? What gifts of love have you treasured? What gifts of love do you desire? We ask to be filled with God’s “gifts of love.”
The prayer then expresses a desire—“to see you, God!” How? “Face to face.” We want to know God as God knows us. We express in this prayer a desire to be intimately close to God, as a lover is with his or her beloved, face-to-face.
This reminded me of a scene from the Vietnam War series by Ken Burns that was televised during the past two weeks. In one segment a member of the North Vietnamese army described how many of their men deserted but were not punished because it was known that these men would return. They often just became so homesick that they left their comrades to walk a thousand kilometers north—to see their mothers “face to face” which comforted and renewed their will to return to the horrors of fighting and often dying. Our Prayer today expresses a similar desire to experience God “face to face”—so that we can be comforted and continue with the daily challenges of our lives.
In the Post Communion Prayer we (will) ask “make us one with you.” As we share the bread and wine, which Jesus tells us are his body and blood, we seek and surrender to this oneness with him.
So, although we know that Liturgy can be viewed as a repetitious, mindless formula, it becomes clear that if we let the words soak in and refresh our spirit, they can become a reponse, even a rapturous response to a Lover, a face-to-face encounter with the One who loves us—who always has and always will.
I also want to call your attention to today’s second Reading, which Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi in Greece. He quotes an ancient hymn of the first Christians. It reveals revolutionary insights. The hymn marvels at the thought of God becoming a human creature. Think what this means for the entire material world and universe. For the land and all its resources, air, water, all creatures great and small. And then—as if this were not enough—the hymn sings of this incarnate God emptying himself completely—to humiliation, torture and death. This cannot be read quickly and passed over. It cries out to be dwelt on, unbelievable as it is, and absorbed.
Our liturgy then is about awakening, becoming aware of what is, the mystery that enfolds us. Father Richard Rohr writes, “The spiritual journey is about realization, not perfection. You cannot get there, you can only be there.” He notes that this foundational Being-in-God can seem too hard to believe, too good to be true. “Only the humble can receive it because it affirms more about God than it does about us.”
The message has often been: “You can only come to God through us, by doing the right rituals, obeying the rules, and believing the right doctrines.” This is like telling God who God is allowed to love! The problem is: we don’t know who we are. . . . We suffer from the illusion of separation—from God, from Being itself, from being one with everyone and everything.
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) was a thirteenth-century German friar, priest, mystic. For Eckhart, heaven is now. We are invited to participate in the eternal flow of Trinity here, in this lifetime. The only thing keeping us from God and heaven is the ultimate and damning lie that we have ever been separate from God. Before transformation, one prays to God, as if God were over there, an object like all other objects. After transformation one prays through God, as official Christian prayers say: “Through Christ our Lord. Amen!”