Homily – Good Friday

My friends, we have just shared with each other Jesus’ Passion and Death according to John, the beloved apostle. John’s gospel is always used on Good Friday because it gives us a different focus than the other accounts from Matthew, Mark and Luke.  We remember from Palm Sunday and Luke’s passion account that his focus was placed not so much on the detail of the suffering, but more on its meaning for each of us as depicted in Paul’s reading to the Philippians—“his state was divine, yet he did not cling to it, but became as each one of us.”

In John’s account today, we simply heard Jesus say, in regard to his own personal needs, “I am thirsty.” His concern isn’t for himself but for his apostles—that they would be set free, or more poignantly, from John’s priestly prayer of Jesus that they could learn to “all be one” and not just with each other, but with all others as they would later share his message to “love God and their neighbors as themselves.” When Jesus does die, the account says, he simply “gives up his spirit.” We very much get the impression that John is trying to give; of Jesus being in control of all that is happening to him. He had the power to avail himself to what would be asked of him and he accepted his fate with no complaint.  As Isaiah said in the first reading; “he did not cry out, even though he was badly abused.”

And even with all the suffering Jesus was asked to bear, we see only the silence with which he carried himself, so the silence built into today’s service is very appropriate.  Isaiah gives the truth to this notion as well—“you were like a lamb led to slaughter and didn’t open your mouth.”  John’s account does not include the purely human moments of the Last Supper or the agony in the garden.

John shows us Jesus as one who suffers, yes, but one who is truly the high priest spoken of today in the letter to the Hebrews—one who stands with us and loves us in all our weaknesses, continually calling us to more.

John’s purpose it would seem is to let us know that Jesus freely accepted his death and did not struggle against it—he lived his human existence constantly showing us how we must live and accepted the consequences in his time for living a life demanding justice for all.

Today, I purposely shortened Isaiah’s reading, leaving off the last 5 verses as these concentrate on a God who apparently “needs” reparation for the sins of humankind. I believe many within our Church, theologians included have moved beyond a God who would ask such a price from a son.  This type of God was not the God that Jesus preached about when he spoke of the Prodigal returning to his father’s waiting arms or the Good Shepherd who left the 99 in search of the one lost.

No, as Irish priest, Tony Flannery said a few years back and I paraphrase, we need a new theology for Holy Week! You will remember that Tony Flannery lost his faculties to serve as a priest in Irish Catholic churches due to his support for women priests.

So, the evangelist, John, further tells us that because Jesus freely chooses death, he can just as freely choose life—the new life of the resurrection.  Jesus knew that his actions, his speech, declaring justice for all, speaking against the practices of his Jewish faith and the state of Rome would cause him to pay the highest price for his so-called treason—death on a cross.

So, we need not look for someone to blame; God, the Jews, the Romans.  Jesus chose life to the fullest, living from his heart mostly and he paid the price for not going along with the status quo, for not keeping silent.

So, my friends, while this is a sad day when we remember our brother’s suffering, and not for our sins, but that we might follow him ever more closely, it is a day to begin in small part, rejoicing for the gift that he gave us, so completely in his life, death and resurrection. Because you see, we can’t think about his dying without remembering his rising. His death carries no meaning without the hope of his rising. And I’ll leave it there for today—–

Homily – Palm Sunday

 

Friends, I could give you some exegesis around the meaning of the readings today as we begin this holiest of weeks and probably, some thoughts will make their way into this homily; but I thought what might be a more meaningful way to go, would be to concentrate on what “this triumphal entry into Jerusalem” meant, ultimately, to our brother Jesus.

This final journey to Jerusalem was the culmination of his relatively short life on this earth. We can only imagine the emotion he was experiencing! If he had been a musician; we might say that this action was his grand opus—the high point of all that his combined humanity and divinity had allowed and challenged him to proclaim.

All the prophets, especially the later ones such as, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke eloquently about who Jesus, as the Messiah would be—one with humanity—with us, suffering all that we would suffer, and we might add—experiencing so much of the good that this life can bring through interactions with others, through caring and giving of himself for the least among us.  Jesus spoke his truth to the powers present in his time, about justice for all. And we know from Isaiah’s words today in the first reading that what Jesus had to say would not be accepted by all—and that there were those who wished to silence him.

Within the time frame of a week; this triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem would end in seeming failure with his death in one of the most horrible ways that death can come to an individual.  We are told by Scripture scholar, Diane Bergant, that Paul’s beautiful hymn of praise to the Philippians seems the best way for us to understand Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection—while he does not minimize it; he also doesn’t spend undo time depicting it.  Rather, Paul really explains the suffering to us and tells us what it means—his state was divine, yet he did not cling to it, but humbled himself, becoming as all humans are.

Within a week, his beloved apostles and friends would all, save a few—John, Mary of Magdala, his mother and some faithful women, leave him in fear.  Two would betray him—one would seek forgiveness, one had missed the message that his friend, Jesus had spoken so many times before—that there is nothing we could ever do that would separate us from the love of God.

Scriptures tell us that our brother Jesus wept over Jerusalem for how they had so misunderstood his coming among them—they wanted a king—and he came as a servant.  They let their humanity, their lust for power and control get in the way of his message of love and care for all.  Even his closest friends—apostles who spent three years with him, hearing day after day the purpose for his coming—to basically show them, all of us, the best ways to live and to love, didn’t get it!  Jesus was always about, “leading with the heart,” not the head, and those in the society he graced with his presence who were women, the poor, the ill and downtrodden got his message—not about power over, but about humility—power with and for others.

His sadness, his sense of failure with so many whom he loved so much would engulf him for a time in his agony in the garden in the space of a week.  But before that; he would spend his last days teaching in the temple, his last times endeavoring to get the message across one last time that “what we do to others, we do to him.”  We can’t say that we love God and refuse to love our neighbor—he minces no words—it’s as simple as that!

The more my friends that we can let these days come alive for us, the more his words will become real and guide our daily actions going forward.

We won’t be meeting on Holy Thursday this year, but it would behoove us to remember the gift of love that this night depicts.  Jesus, knowing all that was before him, spent his last night before his death showing his closest friends, his mother and the other women, no doubt, even though the Scriptures don’t mention their presence, of how he wanted them to live going forward, once he was no longer physically with them.  They should serve each other, beautifully displayed in the washing of the feet. Whenever and wherever they gathered; they should know and believe that he was with them in the breaking of the bread.  And finally, his greatest prayer was that all people should be one, just as he was one with Abba God.  This is why our parish is named, All Are One—our statement to our city and all others that everyone is welcome here, no exceptions!  Jesus’ priestly prayer was all about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves—that’s it, that’s the message!

We will gather here on Good Friday afternoon in a simple and holy remembrance of a day, more than any other that speaks to the steadfastness of our God’s love for us.  Jesus died a human death the way he had lived his human life—completely and wholeheartedly—always keeping in mind, especially at the end, the all-encompassing love of his Abba for him.  Being human, he doubted and cried out in the agony, in the suffering, but on some level; he knew that life would follow the death and he did it all for us so that we could be steadfast in hope of new life too!

And then on Saturday afternoon, with the Easter Vigil; we will begin our alleluias in that hope.  Amen? Amen!

 

 

 

Homily – 5th Sunday in Lent

“Let the one among you who is without sin, cast the first stone,” our brother Jesus proclaimed to the gathered crowd in today’s gospel.  The Priests for Equality addition of the Scriptures that we use here at All Are One lifts up the obvious right away with the statement, “A couple had been caught in the act of adultery.” This, as I said, is an obvious fact, that it took two for this deed to happen, but all other versions of this story conveniently leave this vital piece of information out.  We might ask how and why this happens.

The society in which Jesus lived didn’t consider women on a par with men—in fact, women only had any status if they were connected to a man in some way—i.e., as a daughter or a wife.  If they were so unfortunate to not have these relationships; they basically found themselves on the street to fend in whatever way that they could.

Jesus was aware of this injustice where women were concerned and thus his statement that those “without sin might cast the first stone” to punish the woman, was ever more powerful.  The penalty for this “crime” for the woman was stoning till death—we know of no such penalty for the man involved.  No doubt Jesus could see into the hearts of the men who brought her before him, knowing their true intention was to bring him down, rather than having any true concern for what this woman did or didn’t do.

As we look back to this time in human history; we might be prone to make a judgment on these men who were abusing this woman in order to bring down the work of our brother, Jesus.  But in our present day, is life any better for women?

Are we not still attempting in this country to elect a woman to the highest office in this country? Are we not still waiting for our Catholic church to ordain women licitly to the priesthood? Both these examples stem from a society that has tiers/layers of importance—men as best with women coming in second.

And the real sin is that of male privilege and it has been going on for so long, that it has become part of our lives to the point that many still do not even see it. A current example that points this up so clearly is that of Joe Biden who has recently been called to task by four women for his “habit” of “uncomfortable (to women) touching.”  In his mind, as he has said, it is his way of “reaching out,” of giving support and he meant nothing inappropriate by it.  He was able to cultivate his “habit” until now because of male privilege that somehow makes his actions toward women something that he alone determines without input from them.  With the “MeToo” Movement, all this has changed.

To his credit, he says, “He now gets it,” while his accusers say, “He should have gotten it much sooner!”  When one part of society is not considered, as good as, those in the position of power can say how it is going to be, and not only that, but the group in power come to expect the privilege.

Another current example of this “power over” is that of white privilege and it comes from a group of women religious, representing many different orders of sisters who got together to tackle the issue of racism.  One of the presenters, a black, religious woman, Sister Patricia Chappell,  stated in no uncertain terms that there would be some “ouch moments” in their time together.   She was joined in the presentation by a white woman religious, Sister Anne Louise Nadeau.

The first “ouch” moment came very quickly when Sister Patricia asked the group of nearly all white women religious where the black sisters were.  She said that half of the women in this room should be black. Sister Patricia walked back through the history of religious women calling their attention to times when white women would not sleep in a bed that a black woman had slept in even while they were preaching a mission of love.  Being denied access to religious communities in the past has left black people with a feeling of not being good enough or competent enough and those feelings take a long time to heal. And black women are dealt a double blow—first, that of being a woman compounded by being black.

Sister Patricia went on to talk about white privilege, that insidious condition that gives whites a hand up in life that black people have to fight to obtain, just because of the way they happened to have born.  I know personally that I never had to have the talk with my son that every black mother has to have with her sons about the fact that a young black male is suspect just by nature of the color of his skin.  That’s white privilege!

Both sisters, black and white spoke about how communities need to be more inclusive, name the sin of white privilege, listen to others and then listen some more.  It doesn’t matter how I, as a white woman look at a situation, alone,  but how what I take for granted is received by the other who doesn’t live with the privilege. With regard to male privilege, it doesn’t matter how a man looks at a situation, alone, he has to know and understand how his action is taken by women.

The dual sins of racism and sexism have been with us so long that sometimes we wonder what, in fact, we can do! Our readings for this 5th Sunday of Lent are very instructive in that regard.

First of all, Isaiah lets the people of his time know that indeed God “opens a way” for us.  That God “is doing something new” and is there walking with us to help us to do that “new thing” that will include people, make them feel welcomed, show them that they don’t stand alone.  This of course assumes that we are in regular contact with God, that power that watches over all of life.  For myself; I find it much more convicting to read Jesus’ words, “watch” as it were, his actions and then attempt to do the same.

So much of this is simply being aware.  For those of us who are white, middle class, it is realizing that all of the world doesn’t live with the privilege that we do.  Julia Walsh, a young writer for the National Catholic Reporter has this to say about white privilege:

Whether I like it or not; I participate in the evil of racism every time I enjoy my white privilege. When I feel the tinge of excitement over seeing a “run-down” neighborhood flipped into an area  with funky shops and remodeled homes (that’s what gentrification is), I’m ignoring the plight of the poor.  When I savor easy access to healthy food and transportation without anger for the  lack of attainability my black and brown sisters and brothers have of such basics, I’m failing to love.  And when I experience nothing but respect and kindness from police officers and assume it’s everyone’s experience, I’m turning away from the truth.

In both the 1st and the 2nd readings for today; we get the clear message from Isaiah and Paul that basically the past is the past—we can’t change what we did or didn’t do then, but we do have control of what we do in the future!

Jesus has come and shown us the way—he always had the time for those on the margins and we must too!  Julia Walsh says it like this and I share her thoughts today as perhaps good ones to ponder in our journey these last two weeks of Lent as we move ever closer toward Easter.

There is a major cost for shrinking from naming evil.  Evil creeps through every society and crawls into the hollows of our hearts, where our deepest fears lie dormant.  Evil crawls into the places where we hold our dreams and desires, clings to pride and comforts and subtly shifts our  understandings, gets us to justify our destructive behaviors .  If we see how evil lurks, ready to convince us of lies, then we might be able to name it, confront it in ourselves, each other.  If we name the evil, then we can have power over it; we can change.

Friends, I began this homily with Jesus’ words about who can throw a stone at another and we all realize that none of us can, because none of us is without sin.  What we can try and do is walk through life with a big and merciful heart, expecting the best from others and giving the benefit of the doubt when others don’t give their best, knowing that we will need that same mercy from time to time.  We can more often try to see a situation from another’s point of view—realizing that we may not know the whole story with which that person walks.  We never have to agree with an action that causes others pain, but we do have to try and find a place in our hearts for the offender, as Jesus did.  With regard to the woman today in the gospel—Jesus showed her mercy, but he also said, “Do better next time! Amen? Amen!

Homily – 4th Sunday in Lent

With this Sunday of Lent my friends; we find ourselves part way through this time given us by the Church to perhaps be a bit more introspective of our lives and our journey to follow our brother, Jesus, ever more closely.

Six weeks gives us a good bit of time for doing this and it could be that you have made some good strides toward that goal, but if you are like me, you probably need to keep refocusing, asking that question that we as Jesus’ followers must continue to ask—do I grow more like Jesus every day?

Does my speech, for instance, reflect a deep caring and respect for myself and others in the ways that God has first loved me? Do I live with a sense of justice, with respect for each person I meet, coupled with an attempt to understand what each walks with in life, rather than the tendency to judge what I see on the surface?  Do I make an attempt to share my wealth with those less fortunate—through tithing, contributions to the local food shelf, community sponsored meals and shelters for the homeless, and a host of other ways?  None of us can do it all, but each of us must do our piece, whatever that might be.

Lent calls us to a deeper communion with our God through the prayer of our lives.  And I say, “Prayer of our lives” because this is different for each of us.  Prayer is basically,  “a checking in,” as it were, with God, listening for what God may be wanting us to know, speaking our words of praise and gratitude for all the gifts in our lives and confirming that we are on the right path.  As Joan Chittister says, “Prayer is meant to bring us to see the world as God sees the world.  It is meant to expand our vision, not trap us in a world that is only ourselves.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how we know that we are doing that which God wants us to do. Now, keeping in mind that God wants good for us and not bad, our decisions in life, if they are the correct ones—the ones that are best for us and others, should bring us peace.  Is this to say that we will have all the answers? No, but we should have a sense of peace, for the most part, in what we are deciding to do.  If not, than we can be quite sure, that what we have chosen to do is not of God and may not bring us or others in our life, happiness.

Our lives as Jesus’ followers should always be about keeping our eyes on him—listening to his words and trying to follow them in our lives.  When we do that, we will be responding in our world as Jesus did in his, as our Creator God did in sending us Jesus.

As you all know, Robert and I recently traveled to Chile and ultimately got to Easter Island, a five-hour flight off the mainland of Chile to the west, into the Pacific Ocean. Our destination was a small island named, “Easter” by an explorer, Jacob Roggeveen who visited there on Easter Sunday, in 1722. In the language of the local people, it is called, Rapa Nui.

We were there over three different days and had the opportunity to see the large, stone statues called, “Moai” constructed, it is thought, from 1400-1650 C.E. that played a significant role in the island peoples’ spirituality.

They saw the statues as representing their deceased leaders who had gone on before them and now watched over and protected them.  The statues were built for the leaders, priests, kings, those of some importance to the people. We might compare them to Christians constructing great cathedrals—as a way to “reach” God.

Our guide during our visit there said that when the people began building the Moai, they were much smaller in size than the huge examples that people travel there now to see.  Like in any good thing, we humans tend to lose sight of our purpose and compete with others to be greater, build grander statues and this happened with the Rapa Nui people, so that their statues grew ever bigger.  We saw an example of one statue that was left in the place it was created because it was thought to be 75 feet long and weighing over 100 ton—ultimately too big to move!

So when the Rapa Nui people lost sight of their true purpose, trying to reach out to those who had gone before them, concentrating only on building bigger than their neighbors, fighting broke out between these neighbors evidenced by the toppling of statues belonging to others.

We can make connections I think in our own Christian history in the building of ever bigger cathedrals instead of concentrating on Jesus’ message which was one of love, being his “body and blood” for our world—seeing him in those we meet each and every day and treating them accordingly.

The Scriptures today remind us once again of the love of the Creator for all of creation as evidenced by the God of Israel walking with the people, from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. As evidenced by our God sending our brother Jesus to be one-with-us, saving us through his example of how to live and love so that we can do the same by ever keeping him in our sight.

And for each of us who ever wonders if there is a loving God walking with us, Jesus’ sharing of the beautiful story of the Prodigal, should answer any and all our questions and concerns.  The father in this story not only shows radical love for his wayward son, but over-the-top love for this one who has gone astray.  Just as the son was “wasteful” with the gifts of his inheritance, the father was “wastefully extravagant” with his love when his son finally chose to return and begin again.

This kind of love is many times hard for us humans to understand—the elder son in the story certainly didn’t!  We humans tend to want to repay good with good and bad with punishment.  Thankfully, we have a God who is continually chasing after us, showing us mercy, wanting us to come home.

Our experience on Rapa Nui/Easter Island brought home to us once again that there are many ways to go to God, as we all search for truth, for something greater than ourselves that is the force behind all the life around us.  The way of the Jews, of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and all others is really no better than that of the Rapa Nui people but for the ability to “keep to message,” the great ideals of each culture, that allow each of us to be our best selves.

So as we continue our Lenten journey, let us strive toward being our best selves, knowing that we have a God to guide us, who loves us wastefully (prodigally) and is always up for a party, to welcome us home!  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Lent

Dear Friends, 

My friend and colleague, Dick Dahl gave our community this fine homily last week in my absence–enjoy! and thank you Dick! –Pastor Kathy


I recently attended a film and discussion entitled “Going, Going, Gone” from the national research sponsored by Saint Mary’s Press of Winona about the dramatically high numbers of young people who are abandoning religion—not just the Roman Catholic Church, but other Christian churches, synagogues and religions.

Over 60 percent say that this disaffiliation took place in them between the ages of 10 and 13. What they experienced at church was not meaningful to them. Furthermore they sought connection and inner transformation. Instead they said they felt they were going to a club to which they felt they no longer belonged.

They did not want to be part of a church that seemed mainly judgmental, a church that seemed to separate and divide people rather than bring them together. They sought connection with a Higher Power but felt the truth had gotten lost over the centuries in interpretations that became a barrier rather than a window or a light. They sensed that there were different valid paths to the truth, to what is meaningful.

Being out of doors in Mother Nature was important to many of them. They sought to become better persons. Unconditional love and openness to others made sense to them. Social justice and the findings of science also made sense.

They did not usually leave the church in anger, rather often with some sadness.  They sought connection with others through friendships, in dinner groups, in working out at the gym, in local commitments.

With these contemporary changes going on about us, especially in the younger generation, can we just go on as we always have? Or are we called to recognize and respond to ways in which the Spirit is acting? In what ways might the Spirit be calling us to be open to other ways of thinking, to the experiences of other people?

Although these causes of disillusion in many young people may be a far cry from what led Jesus into the desert, I’d like to suggest a possible connection. Isn’t it dramatic that after about thirty years, he was moved to change his way of life and begin to act publicly? He may have been prepared for this by change by contact with his cousin, John the Baptist, but it was the Spirit that then led him into the desert.

Also I have known that “forty” is a symbolic number in Scripture but I have learned recently that it usually referred to whatever length of time was necessary to achieve a goal or purpose. So the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, but not necessarily literally forty years. The Sinai is not that large an area! Jesus’ time of prayer and fasting for forty days in the desert was for as long as was necessary to prepare him for the change in his life that was about to occur.

When he emerged, he challenged “the system;” he challenged the way many of the traditions had enforced rules but had lost their inner meaning. I think the disaffiliated young people of today would have felt energized by Jesus as they have come to distrust institutions. Based on their stated resonance with social justice, they would have welcomed the way he reached out to the stranger, the foreigner, the outcast.

The reasons many young people give for leaving religion often describe a hunger for what religion, especially Christianity, should be offering. Religion should be open to what is true from any and all sources. It should be a force that brings people together, that overcomes divisions, that focuses on transforming love and mercy.

Eleven years ago Father Richard Rohr wrote a book about Scriptural Spirituality. He began by saying, “We need transformed people today, not people with answers.” He quoted Eugene Ionesco, the French-Romanian playwright who wrote, “Over-explanation separates us from astonishment.” Father Rohr says that for many people too many words have separated them from astonishment, as if the right words can substitute for inner experience. He asserts that the marvelous anthology of books and letters we call the Bible “is all for the sake of astonishment.” It’s for “divine transformation…not intellectual…coziness.”

Fr. Rohr says, “We have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas—about which we can be right or wrong—rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes. Biblical revelation invites us into a genuinely new experience.”

In his letter, “Joy and Gladness,” Pope Francis wrote, “…a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity.” To the extent we miss this, religion is failing to transform and enliven our spirit and our communities.

In today’s first reading Abram was astonished when the Lord promised him that he and his wife Sarai, who were in their eighties, would be the parents of offspring who would become as numerous as the stars in the sky. Then in the Gospel reading, having eight days earlier warned his disciples that it would not be easy to follow him, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain where they were astonished by his Transfiguration before their eyes. They heard his Father’s voice, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

The transfiguration of Jesus prepared him for his “exodus”—his coming Passover through a horrible death to the transformation of his Resurrection. His Spirit is now leading us through this time of Lent, our time in the desert as it were, to be silent, to be astonished, to listen to the Son and be transformed.