Homily – 6th Sunday of Easter

This week I celebrated my 68th birthday.  I can remember when I turned 60 thinking, oh my God; I am getting so old! Those of you out there who are older consoled me with the fact that, “I’m just a kid!” and should not worry.  Now, at 68, the number isn’t so much my worry, as, what I am doing with all these years—whether I am faithful to the call, to the trust and love that God has first, given me.

I have shared with some of you in conversation that as I continue to age, the realization has come to me that I have lived the greatest portion of my life now and so, I am cognizant of the fact that I want to make the best of whatever years I have left. Like, for example, I don’t want to be part of groups anymore that are afraid to change, that aren’t open-minded and because those in power just want things to remain the same, even when it isn’t working; I am simply spinning my wheels when I could be doing something more productive for myself and others.

The chosen readings of the Church for this Sunday are all about love as is often the case in the Easter Season—some are very upfront about proclaiming this message of love, first from God and then the admonition that we do the same, as in the First Letter from John in today’s second reading.

The first reading shows this “love message” more obliquely where Peter asks in Acts, “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit?” The answer of course is, “a lack of love.” Peter and the others struggled with the fact of whether Jesus intended that the Gentiles were to be baptized and confirmed by the Spirit in the faith.  We only have to recall Jesus’ words in the 14th chapter of John, “You shall do even greater things than I” to know what Jesus intended—that his message to reach out to others was always, always  part of the plan.

It is this assurance, that the “love message” was intended for all that gives me such joy in my involvement with the Winona Interfaith Council.  I witness such rich theological messages coming from all of the faith backgrounds represented under our umbrella, Christian, Quaker, Unitarian, Buddhist, Islam, Jewish and Baha’i—each showing a different aspect of God’s face and involvement with our world and I know deep within the rightness that we all are united to speak in our community with one voice—we are loved by God and must return the love by respecting each other’s own particular ways of finding and going to God.

It is out of this rich bringing together that many churches within the Winona Interfaith Council have banded together once again to give voice to the idea of “sanctuary” for the undocumented within our community. You are all aware that All Are One has become a Sanctuary Support Community, meaning that we will give spiritual, material/financial and emotional support to the Church that will hopefully say, “yes” to becoming the Sanctuary Church within our community—the Church that will actually house the individuals needing support in their process to stave off, deportation.  This past week, The Quakers have joined us in announcing that their group has voted to become a Sanctuary Support Community too!

The “love message” continues in today’s gospel where Jesus tells his first followers, “To live on in his love” and goes on to say and to model, how, in fact, that is done.  Jesus does not consider himself to be better than those who follow him and to prove it, he calls them, “friends.”

One doesn’t call another “friend” when they are into power and control.  That is why I call you all, “friends.”  Hopefully, you notice the other ways that I try to show that we are one—I sit with you for the readings, rather than take a seat apart, giving myself honor above that of the Scriptures being read for us all. At all Roman Catholic women priest liturgies, you will notice that the pastor receives communion after serving it to the people, a sign that we are about “service”— not honor for ourselves.

This ministry of almost 10 years, this next Thursday, the 10th of May, has always been about what we do here together, as equals.  This is reflected in the invitation that I repeat at the beginning of our Eucharistic Prayer when we have new people among us, reminding all present that by praying the beautiful words of consecration together, we do make Jesus present!  We must remember that we are all celebrants here—I have the privilege of presiding, but it is together that we make Jesus present among us by our jointly prayed words.

So, my friends, we continue to walk faithfully through this Easter Season toward Pentecost and the remembrance that the Spirit walks constantly with us too on our journey through life giving us the strength to act with love as God first loved us and continues each day to love us. Yesterday, through the Interfaith Council, about 20 people came to the Redig Family Farm to walk our labyrinth—a sign and symbol of our journeys through life with all its ups and downs.

So, in the end the amount of years we have, isn’t nearly as important as the quality of the life that we live.  This next week, on May 10th, we will remember that 10 years ago many of us took an extreme step, in faith, as we began our parish here—much about that initial endeavor was clearly the work of the Spirit—from my initial “yes” to ordination on May 4, 2008 to the support of many at our first Sunday Mass on May 10th of that same year.

Through these 10 years, we have grown as a community of faith that has generously given of its surplus time and talent in countless ways to our city, country and world.  We have stood up for the right and privilege of women as well as men being able to answer their God-given calls to priesthood and for the right of all individuals, regardless of lifestyle choices to be welcome at our table.

We, as a community of faith have, these 10 years, stood for inclusivity, for welcome and for the message of Jesus.  We are grateful for the responsibility of being a true Vatican II parish in this our home town of Winona, MN.  May we, with God’s grace be true to this call now, and into the future.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 5th Sunday of Easter

Friends, this set of readings today is probably the strongest yet since Easter giving us a most clear direction in the way we as followers of Jesus must proceed—must, in fact, live our lives—we could say that the Spirit had an active hand here! We see in the first reading from Acts that the budding Christian community is not at all sure that they can trust Paul, who as Saul was a rabid persecutor of Christians.  But, Barnabas steps up and calls the others to love and forgiveness as Jesus modeled so well from the cross.  Fear was overcome by love in some of Jesus’ early followers—something that would need to happen again and again, then, and today as we all strive to follow our brother Jesus.

We, as a Vatican II community of believers had the opportunity this past week to follow Jesus as your board voted unanimously to become Winona’s first Sanctuary Support Community to assist immigrant sisters and brothers in our midst needing help to remain in this country.  Other churches will follow our lead and because we and others have answered any fears we may have in taking such a stand with love; we will hopefully give the church in town considering becoming Winona’s Sanctuary Church, giving actual shelter to those in need, the extra support to answer their fears with love too.

In John’s 1st letter—our second reading, we are instructed to basically, “walk the talk”—to love in deed and in truth, not just talk about it!  John continues and I paraphrase; love is our way of knowing that we are committed to the truth and are at peace with God, no matter what our consciences may charge us with.  This is a tremendous statement when you think about it!  We are to love, no matter what our consciences charge us with—love is always the test!   If the action isn’t about love, we may have to check the foundation of our consciences.

What is the loving thing to do?—always a question we must ask when we don’t know how to proceed.  Many times people’s consciences have been formed devoid of love and so we will see people rabidly defending the God of their own making, or morals intended to control others, lifestyle choices, truly believing in the rightness of their actions—all without the consideration of what is the loving thing to do—or what Jesus would have done.

I had an extended conversation with a board member after our historic decision on Monday evening and it was all about the realization that this is what Jesus would have done—we all know his words from Matthew’s gospel depicting the Final Judgment—“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”  And the people will say, “When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?”  And God will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  As Easter people, we are challenged to this deep kind of thinking.

Often, we pray in our liturgies for the renewal of our Church—a renewal that needs to happen.  We try to do our piece here at All Are One, and I believe that each of us realizes the challenge that is before us each day to do the loving thing, whether we ultimately do it or not!  Sometimes, there is the tendency to think that “the loving thing to do” is to never say, “No,” but really it is about speaking the truth as the Spirit gives it to us and that sometimes the answer will be, “yes” and at other times, it will be “no.”   It is always easier to not say what needs to be said, to protect ourselves, our positions, our reputations.  But the loving thing is about bringing compassion, hope, mercy, understanding and truth–to situations often devoid of these gifts.  Our brother Jesus showed us so well how to bring these gifts to his world.

Jesus gives us the wonderful analogy today of the vine and the branches—we are part of something living and good and Jesus’ life force pulses through this vine/this family that we became part of at our baptisms—we grow as branches from that vine if we are people of love. If love is not the determining factor in how we do “church,” then the young that we hope to attract will walk away, as many already have. The younger generations want and have a right to expect that we be authentic—that we at least attempt to “walk our talk.”  Friends, it is good to regularly question our commitment, check to see that we are indeed, “walking the talk”—that our words are lived out in our actions.

Winona’s attempt through the Interfaith Council to address the need for a Sanctuary Church in our county that is home to 400 undocumented people—our brothers and sisters, really, as followers of Jesus, is walking the talk! I believe that we, as a community of faith can be humbly proud of the decision our church board made on our behalf this past Monday night.

During the month of May, coming up next week, Catholics have traditionally turned to Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother and our sister for the journey.  Mary adds the human feminine face of God to our world, a face that has traditionally been depicted in a totally male form.   Mary was a woman of strength, a woman who said, “Yes” continually to God throughout her life on behalf of her son who showed us the way, the truth and the life to strive to live. I like to consider Mary more as a sister in my relationship with her, than as a mother, because it allows her more of a voice.  In her role as a mother; she can be positioned—set aside, really, on a pedestal, to be respected, yes, but I truly believe God intended more from her—as a challenge to us, as a model in how to follow her son, our brother, Jesus.  We will sing a version of Mary’s Magnificat as a concluding hymn today—this is really a marching song—an action statement! Let us often throughout the month of May, turn to our sister, our friend and ask her guidance as women and men to live full and strong lives as her son’s followers.

My friends, all of us, women and men are called equally to be the hands, face and heart of Jesus in our world. Jesus always meant it to be so—we only need look to his lovely, final meal with his disciples and friends, men and women and no doubt family members the night before he died, praying “that they would all be one—one in message, one in acceptance of each other to be true bearers of Jesus profound message of God’s love for each of us!

This year, we are embarking on a historic time; we will be celebrating 10 years of faith and mission, living out the call of the Second Vatican Council, proclaiming that women too are called and that each of us is called to be the change that we so long to see in our world.  By saying “yes” to be a witness in this community as a Sanctuary Support Church; we are continuing our work of 10 years in being a place that attempts “to walk” the talk of the Scriptures.  To each of you who support this vision and mission; I am privileged to be your pastor and walk this walk with you.

Amen!

(at conclusion –pray the pledge)

“We affirm that as a congregation of people of faith, we are taking seriously the call to provide sanctuary support in the Winona Sanctuary Network. We recognize that our immigrant neighbors are a vital part of our community and local economy and that due to a broken immigration system they have not all been allowed the legal protections that they deserve. To this end we will use our privilege and our resources to stand with our community members that are in fear of deportation. As a sanctuary support community we are able to do this by providing; prayers, security, time, money, advocacy, relationship, and fellowship to the degree that is within our power.”

 

 

Homily – 3rd Sunday of Easter

My friends, our alleluias continue today as we celebrate the love of our God in Jesus. These six weeks of Easter leading up to Pentecost keep calling us back to the profound mystery of God-With-Us—Emmanuel. Jesus uses this time to sharpen his disciples hearts and minds to the truth of all that has happened—that he has indeed fulfilled the Scriptures—not perhaps in the ways the people had expected—but fulfilled them just the same.

In our gospel today; we see Jesus patiently opening the minds of his followers to the realization that he came so that we all would be saved, perhaps from ourselves, by being brought to new life in him.  All that Jesus ultimately suffered was part and parcel of his life of love, justice and mercy given for all.

Simply put, Jesus died because of how he lived—the powers in his world weren’t ready for his message that our God loves everyone, even the least among us, and for that boldness, for being the prophet that Moses and all the prophets before him, as recorded in Acts today, prophesied about, he had to die—as if dying could silence his message! But the joy of this season is that he rose—death could not hold him, as it will not hold us.

And it is this awesome reality that death is not the end that Jesus’ followers are spending a great deal of time struggling with—and we can hardly blame them.   Our purely human minds are incredulous along with Thomas—“We saw that you died, but now you are with us!” It is clear that their minds needed to be opened—they forgot so quickly how Jesus was always turning things on their heads.

And, Jesus does open their minds through their humanity— “Have you anything to eat?” If Jesus was not a ghost, but in his body, now resurrected, he would naturally eat.  Jesus always spoke and taught in ways that people could understand and therefore get his meaning.  That was why he often spoke in parables—stories from their lives with an added twist—a higher meaning.

And if each of us will see the risen Jesus, it will be precisely in this way—in our ordinary lives—seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary—we all know those times when we see family, friends, colleagues doing the patient work of bringing about the kin-dom—going the extra mile—speaking the kind word, giving the gentle touch, sharing the warm smile, the word of support when no one else is stepping up, being the catalyst for others doing the same.

This past Wednesday, we had the privilege of viewing the 1980’s film, Weapons of the Spirit, the story of a small town in France whose inhabitants, along with their pastor, sheltered 2-3 thousand Jewish people from deportation and likely the loss of their lives in Hitler’s death camps. When the townspeople were later interviewed and asked why they had risked their lives in this way; they simply said, “It was no big thing; they were doing the only thing they could—the right thing. I would say, “They were walking the talk!”

Jesus is patient with his incredulous, yet faithful followers as he prepares them for the gift of the Spirit—the one who will bring them the courage to speak truth with love, no matter the personal danger.

The work that Jesus called his first followers to after the resurrection and by extension, calls us to as well, takes strength, and a deep faith that took them and will take us to places we might not always choose to go. We may not always understand, but we will have the knowledge that we don’t have to do it alone—our brother Jesus will be with us.

I have asked this community to consider being a Sanctuary Support Community for those in our midst who are struggling to stay in this country in the face of changing deportation rules and regulations.  Being a Sanctuary Support Community means that we would attempt in whatever ways that we can to give support to the church that may eventually become a Sanctuary Church in our community.

The Easter Season calls us to remember that we have the same Spirit of Jesus that gave him and us by extension, caring hearts and minds to see the needs in our midst. When we see evil, sadness, brokenness, lack of love, whether it be in families, among friends, locally, in our churches or within our city, nationally or beyond—we must offer the “bread” to eat that is needed.

Some of us from All Are One a week ago served the simple physical food needed at The Feast, sponsored by Central Lutheran Church weekly.  Food and the action of eating are often the catalyst that Jesus uses to teach us profound things.  I found myself reflecting with the group of us gathered to serve those who came to partake of the meal, on the gift of food.  One gentleman came through the line three times to have his plate filled and I remarked later to those serving, “This is probably all he has had to eat today!” It made me realize that I have never known the feeling of wondering whether I would eat today!

We see in today’s gospel that the disciples on the road to Emmaus knew Jesus, “in the breaking of the bread”—in the action of outreach to others.  We recall many other times when food or a meal was center stage in profound teachings—feeding the 5000—“you give them something to eat”—Jesus said to the apostles when they suggested he send the people away so that they could get food.  Certainly the instruction was to feed more than their bodies, but the feeding began there.  There were meals at the home of Martha and Mary, at the home of a prominent Pharisee—always Jesus used an ordinary event to raise an extraordinary point about how to live life.

Within the meal, celebrated at the home of the Pharisee, a woman comes to Jesus asking for forgiveness, for light—a new vision, a more meaningful existence and he gives it to her, while teaching the Pharisees present how they are to be in life—how they are truly to serve, by of course, being servants.

There is a group of Catholic priests who are taking Pope Francis’ words to heart that the formation of priests be renewed—one of Francis’ points, which this group is pursuing, is that priests are to be “servants.”  Imagine that!

So—our task is to offer as Jesus did—the bread that is needed—be it physical or emotional—knowing that the gift is always spiritual.  We see Peter then—emboldened by the Spirit in the 1st reading speaking truth with love to all the people, even though some may not want to hear it. His life will ultimately be endangered, but as John in his 1st letter says today, if we say that we know God,  then we must act accordingly walking in the footsteps of Jesus, no matter the cost.  As Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong is fond of saying, in regard to God’s love for us, “We must love wastefully,” as our God does, and we see this so clearly in the life of Jesus.  As Jesus said to the apostles in our gospel today, you are my witnesses that love is stronger than death—stronger than any suffering that can come to us—suffering and death are not the end.

Let us pray then this week for each other that our inner eyes might be opened to see the Risen Jesus in our midst and to respond as he did—offering peace—modeling forgiveness in our personal lives, which is a profound gift in and of itself and one that does bring peace, and heals our fractured world—reaching out to the poor, sharing what we have so generously been given ourselves, and in these actions—proclaiming the Good News to all. Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Easter

All this past week and today, the Acts of the Apostles lets us know what life as followers of Jesus, post-Easter, was like.  In his physical absence; they remembered all that Jesus had taught them about right living.  Their days and nights after the joy of the Resurrection were about living as Jesus had taught them—living in love, with compassion, justice and mercy toward all of God’s People.  Their lives were about sharing with those who had less, so that no one would be in need.

This first week of Easter, I found myself thinking realistically about the living situation at our home.  As you all know, our daughter Eryn, her husband, Adam and our grandson, Elliot have come to live with us, sharing our space, meals, schedules, all of what makes up our life for the most part, as they work to get settled in a new home here.

We are into the 4th week of a possible 10 week arrangement as they are preparing to close on a selected house.  This arrangement calls for patience from all of us to “accommodate” each other, put our singular desires aside in deference to what is best for all of us.  This is our post-Easter experiment and I would say that we are doing quite well, everything considered.

Not unlike the original post-Easter community that “held everything in common,” there are times of stress for all of us, born out of winter colds in a spring that hasn’t found us yet, tiredness and lack of personal routines.  But, there is the joy of being together and sharing the otherwise rare moments that come with this arrangement: a little, clear voice at 6:30 in the morning wanting to begin his day, an afternoon of romp and tumble in huge Minnesota snow piles provided by Grampa’s plow, shared meals, lovingly prepared and presented by different cooks, complete with blessings including all the special things that went on that day in the mind of a four-year-old, and daily conversations with extra voices and shared ideas and perspectives.

Like that first community of believers, it is about joy, it is about dark, it is about light—it is about finding the best that each of us has to offer.  And that, simply put, is what Jesus calls forth from each of us in Easter time, which we know from last week, is about all time—Easter is not an historical event we remember, but an action that is on-going.  So for that reason, sharing our living space with extended family is a wonderful, yet realistic Easter experience.

Joy then, seems to be an element in living after the Resurrection—a joy that was palpable, sensing Jesus’ presence in a new way and trying to allow their actions to radiate that joy.  For us too, my friends, because we have never known Jesus’ actual physical; we must look for him, “in a new way,” in each other.

Joan Chittister names Easter as a mystery of light and darkness—she says that we must go into the tomb, into the dark and decide if we will follow Jesus’ disciples back into the world of the living and here-in lies the light. The only way to respond to death is with light—the light of goodness—inclusivity—justice and mercy.

This past week, we remembered that day, 50 years ago when a prophet of our times, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was taken from us. He is quoted as saying, among other things that “Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that!”

There is much in our world today that seems to be about darkness—from the halls of power in Washington, we see a great lack of moral sense, a lack of general leadership and guidance in deference to selfishness and a lack of true caring for our people beyond what they can do for those in power.  The light and joy that Easter can bring was never more needed than now.

After February’s mass school shooting in Florida, a new surge of moral leadership and fortitude has arisen in our nation’s young people—a light that came out of darkness—a light that we all must uplift and not let die.

I began reading an older volume this week, entitled, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by gynecologist, Dr. Christiane Northrup.  Even though it has a 1998 copyright, the truth she speaks about women and their wisdom and how it has been discounted over time in the patriarchal society in which we still live, to the point of making women physically, emotionally and spiritually sick is something that must be continually addressed until this darkness becomes light.

Another reflection on Easter that I read this past week uplifted the fact that those who witnessed the Resurrection seem to be doing “a lot of running.” So marvelous a thing was witnessed, by Mary of Magdala, by John, the apostle, by the disciples on the way to Emmaus, that the Scriptures tell us that “they ran” to tell the others!

A question we may want to ponder this week is, how excited are we at hearing the Good News that Jesus has risen, and does it inspire us to actions of light, or are we more like Thomas, in need of proof?—“I need to see this or that and then I will believe and act on my beliefs.  The Church gives us 5 weeks to ponder and reflect on our response.

As Joan Chittister also said this week, Easter is not a fairytale with a happy ending, once and for all—Easter is just the beginning!  Our choices are darkness or light—may we choose to be bearers of the light!

Amen?— Amen!— Alleluia!

Homily – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

Friends, we can hardly miss that last Sunday we were at the crib with the baby and now today we are with Jesus as he begins his public ministry.  Other than his visit to the temple when he was 12 on the occasion of his bar mitzvah; we don’t know much about those “lost” years between then and when he began to share publicly what God, his Abba had sent him to do.

With the help of our imaginations, as Joan Chittister names, “a distinct gift from God;” we can assume that this passage of time included much listening, much communing with his Abba—another term for Loving Parent, about just what he was to do.

He no doubt spent a good deal of time studying the Torah, the first five books of the Bible that all good Jews were knowledgeable in, the Psalms of David and the Prophets.  It was the words of the prophet, Isaiah that he would later come to proclaim and fulfill, “I have come to bring good news to the poor,” and so on.

It is good for us to try and imagine what this “coming out” must have been like for Jesus—he left the comfort of his hometown to show himself around the Jordan River where John the Baptist was preaching.  He apparently looked like everyone else—nothing outstanding as John had to point him out to his disciples and friends, “There is the Lamb of God!” and instructed them to follow him, now.  These two, Andrew and John must have had great faith to have left the Baptist and follow Jesus, whom they didn’t know.  Could we have done that?

Then, it is good to reflect on the interchange between Jesus and his first two disciples.  When they catch up with Jesus, he asks them, “What are you looking for?” At this beginning of another new year, we too might ponder Jesus’ question, “Just what are YOU looking for?” What would make your life better, in the truest sense of the word?” Could you imagine it?

Their response to Jesus tells us a great deal—they want to know where he is staying! This is a question that tells Jesus that they want to come to know him much better.  We might think about this question in terms of two people dating for a while and at a certain point they want to take their special friend home to meet their family—to share what they have found!

Jesus’ answer is equally intimate; “Come and see!”  These first two disciples found Jesus to be the One they had been waiting for—by spending time with him, listening to his words—which, by the way, is a very good definition of prayer.  In all of this, these first disciples came to know him as the Messiah.

The readings for this Sunday as we transition once again into Ordinary Time for a few Sundays before we begin the Season of Lent on February 14th, call us to be listeners, intent on hearing God’s voice.  Sister Joan Chittister, through her monthly calendar, The Monastic Way, is taking this New Year to look at women who imagined great things and acted upon those imaginings–St. Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic for claiming that God talked to her through her imagination and when questioned about this seeming phenomenon, she answered, “How else would God speak to me; if not through my imagination?”

Samuel, in today’s first reading is told to listen and if he hears God’s voice, he should reply, “Yahweh, I am listening.”  He already had a sense of being present to Eli, the prophet and knew that when he heard Eli call, he should say, “Here I am,”   which meant he was ready to do the prophet’s bidding. Samuel was soon to learn that his response to God should be the same, “Here I am!”

Are we ready to do what God may be asking of us on this day, in our time? And how will we know if it is truly God who is calling?  My kind of litmus test for if it is God calling is if “peace” also comes with the request—somewhat the feeling of, “I can do this!” And while I may not be entirely sure, I am at peace that I won’t do it alone, that God will be with me.  Maybe this is the year that I can step out of my comfort zone and respond to Jesus’ request to, “Come and see.”

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is basically a discussion between the material and spiritual world.  He is trying to help them see that following Jesus’ call means that they should respect themselves and others—try to be their best selves, try to seek after good and that good will come back to them.  It is through Jesus’ Spirit that we can come to know our God better, become more able to see God in others—which is really, “communion” again, in the truest sense of the word.”

The Spirit was alive and well at the Golden Globe awards a week ago when the whole program was transformed by women and the men who support them speaking their truth in a way they have never been able to before due to the unnamed sexual abuse and domination that was present in Hollywood. The climate this year was changed due to those brave women who have come forward this last year through the “Me Too” movement, exposing the pain and suffering which came to be accepted as, “the way it is!” Women in all walks of life have said definitively through another movement that, “TimesUp.”

Time is up to accept anything less than to be treated with the respect that is due each person.  Now-is-the-time, especially for Christians and all other believers, for those in fact, who claim to be human, to open their eyes to the abuse that we give license to when we do not respect the fact that we are all equal and treat each other that way—that I am not better than you and you are no better than me.

It is to each of us, wonderfully made by the Creator, that Jesus came to-be-one-with.  Let us make a New Year’s resolution that we will listen well to each other’s stories and remember that we cannot truly thrive in this world on the backs, the souls of others.  Our world needs now, people who can imagine a better existence for all of earth’s inhabitants and then act upon those imaginings knowing that we won’t be alone—that our brother Jesus is with us loving us into greatness.  Amen? Amen!