Homily – 21st Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

My friends, today we are challenged to see a very big picture—to look through the lens that our loving God uses when viewing the peoples of the world—the People of God.  And just “who,” we might ask is this People of God?  If one reads the history of the Israelite people and of the covenant made between them and God, we would assume that they, the Israelite people, are the People of God.  Enter the prophets; today especially, Isaiah.

Isaiah warns (as prophets do) to not be so smug—that the God who loves and cares for them also loves and cares for all of humankind.  It would appear that many in leadership of our country are not aware of this!  Where did we ever get such terminology as “the one true church?” Isaiah’s God will gather people from north and south, east and west and all will be welcome.  It is this desire, this action of his Abba God that Jesus prays for the night before his death in John 17—this desire, this action is what we as a church community are named for, that “they all may be one,” that all would be welcome. And not only that all would be welcomed, the prophet says, but that all will rank equally with the Israelites who have felt they are a shoe-in for all of God’s promises, because they are “the People of God.”

This is where the tone in the gospel that seems so harsh, as we read it, comes from. Jesus is basically fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic words—just because God has made a covenant does not mean that people have a free ride.

How did our Church—to the present day, ever come to the place of having some be a step above any other;  some with titles and positions of power that they claim for themselves—Monsignor, Your Excellency, Very Reverend Father? What is it that allows some of us in God’s family to claim that, “we are called” by nature of how we happened to have been born and others are not for that same reason? Certainly reading Isaiah’s prophetic words today, one could not come to such a conclusion.

Jesus was very clear—painfully clear in fact, in letting the Israelites know that this will not be the case—they will not have a free ride.  Each one worthy of the eternal banquet must do their part in this life to invite, welcome, and be open to all and that includes us!  So, what does this truly mean? Does it mean that I will invite, welcome and be open to all who see things my way? I don’t think so!  These Scriptures should certainly call present-day Israelites to task with regard to their Palestinian neighbors, especially those of the prophet, Isaiah!

Our challenge throughout our earthly journey is to attempt to see the manifestation of God in each person we meet.  This is the central point in a series of articles in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently on “real presence” in Eucharist—it only matters on the altar if we can first see the “real presence” in each other!  Seeing Jesus in each other is easy to do when we are all of like mind and belief—but when people think and act very differently from us, then the message of our prime manifestation of God, as Christians, Jesus, our brother, becomes more difficult.

A present day national conflict is that of the crisis of guns in our country.  We see the rights of gun owners pitted against the rights of others to simply, live.  When 100 lose their lives daily to guns in this country, no matter the cause; we can with certitude say that access to guns is over-the-top.  And the ignorant rhetoric of the National Rifle Association and anyone who repeats it, that this is a “mental health issue,” is simply burying their head in the sand, at the cost of so many innocent lives.

And even if it were true, which it isn’t, that the proliferation of gun deaths in this country is “a mental health issue,” wouldn’t we want to protect our population when these same mentally ill people go looking for a gun by making it extremely difficult for them to get their hands on one?

Jesus’ words of today, it would seem, come into play here describing Abba God’s reaction, “I do not know you!”  We are required my friends, to be honest, to be responsible, to be reasonable, to consider the needs of others, not just our own—this is what we will be judged on one day, not who we know, nor how much we have accumulated of this world’s goods, but by our actions in making this world as good as it can be for all of us.

Getting back to the bigger picture then, human and theological thought have evolved far enough now for us to realize that our God is universal—there is one God for all of us, different and wonderful people on this earth.  And if that is the case, we must all accept the fact that this God of us all became present through time in Jesus, in Buddha, in Muhammad, in the Great Spirit and in ways we may not yet be aware of. All these manifestations show us a different face of God that none of us is able to fully understand in this life.  And why would we expect it to be any other way?

Jesus told us when he graced the earth—“Your ways are not God’s ways.”  Translation: God can appear to humans in any way that God chooses.  In addition, God is able to love more, show more mercy, more understanding, and deal out more justice that any of us could ever imagine.  It would seem that all this God asks of us is that we try to live out, as best we can, these qualities that for us Christians, Jesus demonstrated so well. And if we do, we won’t need to waste energy on whose god is the best!

Amid the differences, in ideologies, in thought processes, as in our current gun crisis in this country; we must strive to see that the manifestations of God in other major belief systems ask the same of their followers as Jesus asks of us.  Thomas Merton, before he died too young, had done a great deal of work comparing the words and teachings of Buddha and Jesus—finding many similarities.  Reading the words of the Great Chiefs of our Native American peoples also shows similar likenesses.  So, why do we try and say, “We are right, you are wrong” when all have a piece of the truth? Why do we say, “Men are called, women are not?” Why is our thinking so narrow, so small, when our God is so broad, so big, so loving, so inclusive?  Where we can challenge others respectfully is on their actions—claiming Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, the Great Spirit, does not allow having a closed mind to the truth of gun violence in this country, or any other issue that affects us all.

The greater, broader message of today’s readings is that of how God sees the “People of God.”  We are all included and that should change how we look at each other, especially when we disagree on any issue.  It seems whenever we can put a face and an experience on the “pain,” the misunderstanding, the different way of thinking, the different lifestyle, the different belief system—the “something” or “someone” that we feel we can’t live with—can’t accept—we are then opened up, by the grace of God , to a bigger world—allowed to look , just a bit, through the lens that our God looks through and see the multi-colored grandness of all humanity and all of creation, really—the many different faces of God as reflected in all of God’s people and our beautiful world.

The Winona Community, for the 16th year welcomes our Native American sisters and brothers here this weekend as we remember our not-so-good past and promise anew to know, to try and understand and to learn how to share this beautiful piece of land.  And forgiveness is also part of this process, on both sides.

Every attempt we make my friends to know God more through each and every one we meet only draws us closer to that day when we will truly see God’s face in its entirety. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that our God is coming to gather the nations of every language. The psalmist cries out that we should share God’s love with the whole world. The writer to the Hebrews says that suffering will be part of this journey and that we should strive to make the path of our journey straight. And finally, Luke’s gospel concludes with the reminder that none of us are better than the rest of us, so it would behoove us to welcome all, be open to all, and see each one as necessary to show us the total face of God.

And perhaps as our image of God grows larger, as seen through the eyes of many and countless, different people on this earth, our vision of what God is calling us to for the good of our world can grow too! Amen?  Amen!

 

Homily – 20th Weekend in [Extra] Ordinary Time

My friends, by way of a beginning, I want to remind us all, myself included, that each of us is here as a spiritual being, created by a magnanimous God, to have a human experience.  Think of it, each of us was made perfect, not in sin, but in blessing.  Because our God can show nothing but love, this God gave us the gift of human life wherein we can choose how to live that life.  Hopefully our life has been or can still be, about love—received, and love given back. In the times in which we live, love and love alone is the only response that will ultimately change hearts.

I have recently been reading Anne Lamott’s new book entitled, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, and I was especially intrigued and touched really, by a chapter on “Hate.” Those who are familiar with Anne Lamott know her to be a writer who says many things that many of us think, but don’t say out loud.  We perhaps scream at our cat or dog, or the walls of our homes!  Lamott speaks many of our private thoughts and does it in a way that we can look the “evil’ in the eye and perhaps come, face to face with ways to choose a more loving response.

To her credit and one of the reasons why many people enjoy her writing is that she faces herself squarely with the imperfection in her own life and person and doesn’t as a result “preach” to her readers, but struggles through, within herself, what she is asking us to do.

On the topic of hate she basically tells us that while it at times feels good to hate someone that we find so despicable, she, in the end says, hating is more destructive to ourselves than to our victims and furthermore, it doesn’t accomplish any good or change of heart.  What she guides us to is a response on a higher plane, beginning with understanding how someone might arrive at a pattern of life that others find despicable and then arrive at something like empathy.

I offer the following small section of her writing on hate to perhaps aid each of us when we struggle with people and actions that we may find despicable:

“Empathy begins when we realize how much alike we all are.  My focus on hate made me notice I’m too much like certain politicians.  The main politician I’m thinking of and I are always right.  I, too, can be a blowhard, a hoarder, needing constant approval and acknowledgment, needing to feel powerful.  This politician had an abusive father, but he managed to stay alive, unlike his brother.  I don’t think he meant to grow up to be a racist who debased women. But he was raised afraid and came to believe that all he needed was a perfect woman, a lot of money, and maybe a few more atomic weapons.  He must be the loneliest, emptiest man on earth, while I am part of a great We, motley old us.  We show up, as in the folktale about stone soup, and we bring and give and put what we can into the pot, and this pot fills up, and we know it.”

My friends, think what our world would be like if each of us, on a more regular basis, could do the loving thing, that which we have been hard-wired to do since our magnanimous  God placed us here in our perfect states to have a human experience!

The Scriptures today in this [Extra] Ordinary Time call us to be our best selves beginning with Ebed-Meloch  in the reading from Jeremiah who basically does the loving, compassionate thing where Jeremiah is concerned.  He doesn’t first see Jeremiah as an enemy of his lord, someone to be despised or hated, but as a fellow human being floundering, needing the help that only he apparently can give.

And lest I give you the impression that being a prophet, as are both Jeremiah and Ebed-Meloch, in their own ways; we see the suffering that Jeremiah is exposed to.  When we think about perhaps being a prophet in our own time and place, saying what needs to be said that no one else will say, Jeremiah is a good companion for the journey.  He is known as the “reluctant prophet,” a soft-hearted man who wasn’t at all excited about getting people to do what they didn’t want to do!

We are encouraged by the writer to the Hebrews who tells us to, “run with perseverance, to not lose sight of Jesus, nor grow weary or lose heart.” And our brother Jesus has already promised to be with us—always!

We know how important a message this is my friends, “that we are not alone,” when we consider Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “I have come to light a fire on the earth.” Giving this statement the broadest possible meaning; we know that Jesus wants to light the fire within each of us—we must be his eyes, ears, hands and heart in our world and if we aren’t, he simply will not be here!

Being our “best selves,” that I always talk about does not indicate a squishy, milk-toast type of presence in our world—one that notices when bad things happen, but never utters a word of disapproval.  No, being our best selves definitely will call for what our times has come to know as, “tough love.”

If we are going to indeed, love, that means that first we love and respect ourselves through right living and we can then expect and demand even, the same from others.  Our commitment to Jesus through baptism, when others spoke for us and through confirmation, when we spoke for ourselves, calls us to strive for this goodness in our lives, wherein we don’t accept evil done in our world and say so, out loud, and strive as well, to accept and understand the person doing the evil.

Looking for balance in our lives in this way is truly doing the most loving thing–not the easiest thing.  I began this homily encouraging us to consider a God who has showered us with an over-the-top amount of love.  Everything within my message today can be boiled down to love because as Christians, that is what we were made to do.  We can’t escape it unless we don’t really want to live in the footsteps of Jesus.

We need to be there for each other, supporting and loving the Jesus we see in other’s faces and actions, condemning the evil expressed when love is absent, never growing weary or losing heart.  That’s it friends, that is all we need to do!  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 19th Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

My friends, this past week, as you know, has been one of grief, of anger, of lack of faith, perhaps, that anything can be done about the “gun crisis” in our country. The term, “gun crisis, is one I heard this week for perhaps the first time—to explain the madness of gun proliferation in our beloved country.  Someone wrote this past week that our country is exemplary in many ways, but then stated, to be the country with the most deaths due to guns, far and above every other country in our world is not something we should want to claim to our credit!

So, my friends, at the beginning of this homily; I would like to share several key thoughts that stood out for me in the readings for this Sunday that can perhaps help us make sense of all this, or at the least, move us forward toward change.

  • First, the Wisdom writer tells us that the “holy people would share all things, blessings and dangers alike.”
  • Second, Psalm 33 proclaims that, “Happy are the people who are chosen to be God’s own!” The psalmist also prays the petition that is on all our hearts—“May your love be upon us as we place all our hope in you.”
  • Third, the writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the definition of faith—“the confident assurance of what we hope for, the conviction about things we do not see.”
  • Fourth, Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel today are well-known to us as well—“wherever your treasure lies, there, your heart will be.”

I believe in a general way, each of these readings is about faith, some clearer than others, but about that hopeful, confident assurance, just the same.

This “holy people” that the Wisdom writer speaks of is in fact, all of us.  This past week gave us such a profound example, in the yet again, mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton of how, we as a people, “a holy people, share all things, blessings and dangers alike.” Holy people, which all of us were created to be, feel joined when such a tragedy happens, even though we may not know anyone involved. We are joined because we are all God’s people and we must likewise be joined in demanding change in our beloved country that has gone so far astray in what we will “live with,” what we will accept as a new normal in actions, rhetoric and basic values.

This past week, as I said above, I have been hearing the new term used by writers trying to speak sense to the senseless killing that our country somehow has come to accept—that of a “gun crisis,” in our country.

One writer in particular, Daniel Horan, in a National Catholic Reporter article, states in no uncertain terms that, “America is addicted to guns, and that we’re in denial!”  He goes on, “Our country mimics an addict in denial.  Addicts, [we know], need to admit first that there is a problem”—and many in so-called leadership, are not there yet!

Those on the side of doing nothing say, “Americans have a right to bear arms—it’s there in the Constitution.” We must answer this statement as Horan does, “Our Constitution’s second amendment, the right to bear arms was an 18th Century response to a rebelling colony’s right to defend itself,”  end quote, and we must remember that the guns available in the 18th Century were one shot, muzzle-loaders! Horan goes on, “This [Constitutional right] should not be a “cover” for nearly anybody to have access to weapons of mass murder!”

Now I know that there isn’t a one of you here that believes that our Constitutional right to bear arms includes these weapons of mass murder, so I am talking, in effect, to the choir.  But does that leave us off the hook in regard to action?  No, it does not! And having said that, what do we in fact do?

Let us look to our Scriptures.  The Hebrew’s description of what faith is, “the confident assurance of what we hope for, the conviction about things we do not see,” has some clues.

I have said many times before, in this space, that faith and hope are so important, coupled with action, based in love to help us all persevere in these times.  I heard a newscaster, Judy Woodruff of PBS, this past week, question a Republican congressperson on whether he thought this time, with this mass shooting; we could hope for some “gun sense laws?” The congressman responded, “I still don’t think anything can happen yet!” She responded, “Is it good to be of that mindset?”

What she was saying definitely reflects our Scriptures for today—the confident assurance of what we hope for, the conviction about things we do not see!”  Friends, we must not lose hope that a better world than we are living in now can be, and we must couple our hope with action—call and write your congress people, be an irritant under the skin with your persistence, until they act for the good of us all! Go to a demonstration if there is one near you, join the work of Moms Against Violence, or support their work financially, pray without ceasing for strength to not let up, even though you become discouraged. Pray that closed minds and hearts might be opened. I always remember the words of a good friend, Father Paul Nelson, who once told me, and I believe it, “The truth, [or we might say, the good], always comes out—in the end.”

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the faith of our great forebears, Sarah and Abraham, “as good as dead,” the writer says, yet they didn’t lose faith in the God who had promised children “as many as the stars in the heavens, the sands on the seashores.” Their faith brought to fruition what they trusted and hoped for.  And it will be for us too friends, if we keep believing, hoping, acting, and this is the key—acting in love for what we hope for!

The “acting in love” part is where, in our vernacular, “the rubber meets the road.” Our brother Jesus cautions us to, “be on our guard, that much will be required of [us] who have been given much.”  He is never easy on us when it comes to passing on what he lived and died for.  And if that sounds too daunting, remember to keep it simple—in any and every situation, ask, “Is love being violated here?” If so, our need to respond is clear!  Much will be required of us to whom much has been entrusted!

Our forebears “held” our faith and passed it on, eventually with it, coming to us—it is part of our lives, thus we endeavor to make it be about, “all that we hope for.”  Faith is indeed about hope and like Sarah, we must ask, “Have we done our part—in loving action?”

Earlier in this homily, I mentioned the NCR article by Daniel Horan, “America is Addicted to Guns and We’re in Denial.” So friends, when we wonder what we can realistically do, he says we can refute as the American Psychiatric Association has done, statements from the White House and the NRA that mental illness, violence in the media and violent video games are to blame for the mass murders in our country.  The overwhelming majority of mentally ill people are not violent and far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of it, they say.  The Psychiatric Association says there is no causal relationship between violent video games and real-life violence.

Additionally, we must remember that nowhere in the rest of the world do we have the gun violence that we suffer from in the U.S.  Australia is a good example—they have mental illness, and video games, but they also have strict gun laws that limit or down right prohibit gun ownership.

Both Australia and New Zealand, last century—1996 to be exact, banned assault-style weapons after mass shootings in their countries.  This is the action of a mature, reasoned population, unlike the addictive behavior of our country’s so-called leadership. We know addicts always look to blame something or someone else for the cause of the problem.

Horan concludes his article stating, “Our exceptionalism [as a country] is increasingly located in our ability to deny reality, such as in “global climate change.”  The “red herring theater” that takes place within Republican congress people after each mass shooting—the fact that within 30 seconds one person could kill 9 and wound 27 is simply inexcusable! People of faith and church leaders need to call out political leaders to face their denial—accept that we are out of control and that many more people will die because of our collective denial and inaction—we, the people are enabling the cycle of violence!”

Harsh words friends—but our reality! I close then, with no easy answers, only the truth of our brother, Jesus’ words, “Where our treasure lies, there—there, our heart will be too!”  Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 18th Sunday in (Extra) Ordinary Time

Friends, sorry for the lateness of this homily, but our internet was down this past week–seems we had a hungry mouse attack the router cable!


My friends, this week the psalmist encourages us to ponder a simple, but really profound invitation—“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” I would suggest that we make this question a part of our upcoming week, thinking about how we at times, do harden our hearts—fail to go deeper, checking our priorities to see just what it is that drives our lives.

The reading from Ecclesiastes seems to be saying that in the end, “all our work and toil, under the sun, is futile” if it has simply been about accumulating more.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians reminds us of the fact that through our baptisms, we have life now in Christ and that changes everything! Or perhaps, as we assess our lives, it should!

Luke follows this with Jesus’ story—one that always makes me smile, about the farmer hoarding all his grain by building yet, “a bigger barn!”  Jesus’ caution then and now is that you may be called soon to leave all that behind and account for your life—not what you have accumulated, but what indeed, you have shared! We need, in other words to be rich in the things of God—of goodness and love, not in material things.

All of us friends, who have enough, have to struggle daily for balance in our lives—how much is enough—how much is too much?  This reminds me of a question that my mother through marriage used to pose, “How much do I need, and how much do I want!”

This of course is not to say that having things or striving for them is bad, but we always have to be wary of what that striving and accumulating can do to us.  A prime example for me at present is that of some within the Roman Catholic Women Priest movement as they have strived to become ordained.

All of us women, who have become ordained, object, and rightly so, to the men within our patriarchal church who are so into power, prestige and control, to the detriment of the message of Jesus, who asked us to be servants, not lords.   In that light, it has been interesting to me to watch some of the women, as they have gained power as priests and bishops, become what they are fighting.  Power and its ability to control us find victims in women as well as in men and it is something that we do need to be aware of.

I found that for a time, I had to separate myself from my Midwest Region due to my inability to get anyone to listen to what I was saying and make some change. I believe that now some changes are happening as new leadership is coming forth.  Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised this past week as I joined my sister Midwest priests for retreat and found as Bishop Nancy told me, “We have moved on,” meaning that they aren’t the same—that growth has happened.

For all of us friends, the importance of balance in our personal lives, in our cities, in our country and our world, is so important and when all are not allowed to speak and have their concerns heard, we as families, citizens of Winona, the United States of America and the world, are headed for trouble. If we think over history past and present, we know this to be true.

The days in our Church and in other denominations as well when men can set all the rules, benefiting them primarily, with no willingness to change, touting the ridiculous excuse, “the Church moves slowly” is over!  The men, who have solely controlled our bodies of worship, for too long, have lost their credibility through their lies and abhorrent behavior regarding the sex abuse of children and we are not going back!  Balance!

The voices and experiences of women showing that face of our God to the Church is being born and cultivated through women-led congregations such as ours here at All Are One and these women, myself included, are not waiting for the men to give us permission, so they can either join us, or be left behind!  Balance!

In our country, we are witnessing the same thing—2016 may not have been the year that this country could elect a woman to lead us, but because of that ground-breaking work, 2020 may be the year that this country says, “It is time!” Balance!

The readings this week, in this, as someone has said, “Extra-Ordinary Time,” basically meaning that this time in our Church Year is not a lackadaisical time, but a time of challenge, really calling us all to set priorities.  Life, our wonderful existence on earth is all about choosing from many good possibilities—these choices only become “bad,” as it were, when we allow them to rule our lives—too much money, too many things, too much control-power, whatever it might be, to the detriment of doing what is most loving in any situation.  Balance!

Regarding having too much money, it is my strong belief that churches should not carry huge surpluses in bank accounts beyond one month’s outstanding bills.  Here at All Are One, we have the luxury of not owning a building nor needing to pay rent for the space we use—we are thus “allowed,” “to pay it forward” to the Lutheran Campus Center for their ministries, as they share their space with us and for the needs of the greater world.

Part of my disagreement with the Midwest Region of Women Priests was their tendency to “hold onto” the region’s monetary gifts intended for the education and spiritual growth of our women in lieu of some unforeseen catastrophe in the future. Old lessons die hard! Balance!

In our world we must strive for balance too—again, all the voices must be heard!  Twenty years ago, when I was completing my master’s degree in Pastoral Ministries, focusing my studies on the inequality for women in Church and society, women earned roughly, 75% of what men did for equal work.  At present, the inequality is more like 80%, along with even lower wages for women of color and lower still for other races other than Caucasian.  Balance! All the voices simply must be heard and treated equally in order that we all can live with dignity and become all that we were meant to be.

Our country at present is being pulled into a despicable state that is allowing the worst in dialog, ideas and rhetoric to rise to the top because of individual need for power, control and prestige. Fear of losing these things is the main driver and we must all rise up against this evil state when it shows itself. In a country that is frozen in that fear where its apparent need and “sense of right” to bear arms is concerned,  to the detriment of all the hundreds of innocents losing their lives because of the proliferation of guns; we must all speak up and demand change. And again, this is a case that calls for balance.

We must all do our part in any and all ways that we can when we see the morals upon which this country was founded being thrown to the winds at our southern border.  The hypocrisy of a country that was born out of immigration—our forebears coming to this country looking for a better life—a safer life for their families, and now denying this very right to others seeking the same, is absolutely, deplorable.

In these Extra-Ordinary Times, claiming to be Christians, walking hopefully, in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus; we are called to responsibility in living to our best, to care for ourselves, our families, but others too!

Our writers today, Qoheleth from Ecclesiastes, Paul and Jesus, say that we will do that by striving for balance in our lives, simple, but good living—always asking the question, “Is love being served by what I am doing or thinking about doing?”

Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Friends, I would like to dedicate this homily to a woman that I’ll call Karen (not her actual name) to protect her and her family that I have “walked with,” in the spiritual sense for the past year and who went “home” to God this past week.  I dedicate it to her out of respect for the relationship that we had, but even more so, in the light of this homily, because the readings for this Sunday speak so well to an issue that she and I addressed often in our time together, that of the mercy and love of God.

But first, a bit of back story so that you can know my friend better.  I had not known Karen before a year ago when I was called by one of her friends, who also knew me and thought I might be able to be of help to her friend.

Karen had been diagnosed with cancer at the stage 4 level and was trying to come to terms with that.  Not only was she beginning to deal with her own passing, but a year before this, she had suffered the loss of one of her sons, also to cancer—a death that parents can never really get their minds and hearts around—that of their children .

So Karen was grieving—a feeling, a state of mind and heart she had come to know well in her life that also included the loss of her mother at a young age and two failed marriages.  Her first marriage did give her three children—two sons and a daughter and her two remaining children, along with their spouses, gave her four grandchildren.

It was clear to me early on that these children and grandchildren and extended family meant the world to her and the pain and grief that she was experiencing was all about leaving them—would they be all right?—the concerns of any good parent!

Karen decided to fight the cancer aggressively with chemotherapy and after two cycles, it seemed she was getting more ill, rather than better, so she stopped the aggressive part and moved into comfort cares.

Many of us, unfortunately, were raised to believe that God came to redeem us, in Jesus, and required payment for our wrong-doing in life.  Not much, at least not enough in our training was about the mercy of our good God.

The reading from Colossians today, supposedly from Paul, speaks to this issue in the idea of “washing us clean of any original sin.”  Modern day Scripture scholars—“revisionists,” they are called, tell us that everything we read in Scripture may not have come out of the mouth of the particular writer “credited” with it and I would suspect this is an example of that.

Formerly-active Catholic priest, Matthew Fox, now an Episcopalian priest, speaks of each of us being an “original blessing,” not a “sin.”  As a small aside, when I was in chaplaincy training, an Episcopalian priest on staff at the hospital where I trained told me my only Episcopalian joke and basically it is the definition of an Episcopalian which is “Catholic Lite,” one-half the guilt.

When I think of God as depicted by Jesus in such stories as the Prodigal, the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Woman who Lost a Coin and turned her house up-side-down in search of it, and by the way, this is the female version of the Good Shepherd who left the 99 in search of the one lost sheep; I find myself agreeing with Matthew Fox—God sees us as “blessing,” not “sin.”

Stating that from the beginning, humankind is “sin” in need of redemption, rather than “blessing” from our good God, sets up a chain of events that keep humankind quite miserable, beating our breasts and makes God a masochist demanding the life of Jesus to appease God’s anger for our imperfect natures, which in fact God created!  I don’t know about you, but it makes it quite difficult for me to love such a mean God as that. But of course those who devised such a plan don’t want us to think, but simply to obey.

So, in my time with Karen, I assured her that she was mightily loved by our God and then, she as a Methodist, growing up, and me, a Catholic, shared prayer and communion many times over this past year, remembering not the vengeance, but the  love of the God we both shared

Due to the accumulated grief experienced in her adult family with partners struggling for connection with their children and the ultimate care of them, on Karen’s part, the relationships weren’t always smooth, so in this last year of her life, Karen’s main concern was that this family could be a family in the best sense of the word.

The apostles in today’s gospel ask that Jesus would teach them, “how to pray.”  This question bespeaks the desire for a relationship with God—going to a trusted friend, not to someone that they feared.  These same apostles often saw Jesus go off alone, “to pray,” and of his relationship with the one he called, Abba, translated, “Daddy” or “Loving Parent,” and they saw the strength and power that he had to teach and heal after his time away. They wanted that strength and that relationship too!

Often times with Karen;  I would tell her to ask Jesus to help her carry what she couldn’t carry alone and over the year we spent together, she saw the relationship between her adult children grow—that her grandchildren were spending more time together and we prayed prayers of gratitude.

We don’t often enough realize how much God wants to be part of our lives—wants a relationship with us—if we would just ask.  We are often told not to read the Scriptures literally to get the true sense of their meaning and that was never so true as in the first reading today from Genesis.  We read, God said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great…their sin is so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.”  We read this and wonder—if God is all powerful and all knowing, God doesn’t need to go anywhere, God knows!

And then we look at the discussion on how merciful this God might be.  Our trouble friends, as humans, is that we always assume that God’s ability to show mercy, caring and love is on a par with our own, when in reality, there is no end to the ability of God to love us.  It reminds me of when my grandson, Elliot and I are playing against the monsters—our opponents, or the “bosses” as he says, our strength to fight against them is in the “bazillions!”  When you think of the love and ultimate mercy of God, think my friends, in the “bazillions!”

So, I began this homily, dedicating it to my friend, Karen,  and I will end it there as I know she is presently experiencing this over-the-top love of our God as she will now for all eternity and that Jesus who promised that God would never leave us will watch over her family too and be with each of us as well.  We can never out-do our God where love is concerned—that is our hope and our promise! Amen?  Amen!