14 December 2014

Weekly Gospel Reflection — The Third Sunday of Advent

A man named John was sent from G‑d. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.


This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”

John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

John said, “I’m not.”

“Are you the prophet?”

John answered, “No.”

They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied,

I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight,

just as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Those sent by the Pharisees asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.

There are times in our lives when we don’t know what our place is in the world. Everyone else knows, but we don’t.

I remember, some thirty years ago now, when I was standing in my Mother’s kitchen talking about something I was learning in the Bible. She asked me, “Why don’t you go to seminary?” She saw in me that I was supposed to be something I just couldn’t see.

And then there was the time, when my daughter was just a little one, we were gathered at my Mother’s kitchen table and were talking about some theology (I don’t remember what it was) and I was going on and on about something. Any way, my daughter said, “Gosh, Dad! Why don’t you have a church?”

Another time, a friend of mine said, “You know, you would make a good priest.” Again, I didn’t see it.

For years, I just couldn’t see it. I just thought I was like everyone else except I was given the proper tools. But I had a good friend of mine tell me plainly, “No, you’re not like everyone else. Most people don’t care enough to put in the time even if they did have the tools. G‑d’s given you a gift.”

In our Gospel reading today, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem asked John a specific question, “Are you Elijah.” And He answered, “No, I’m not.”

But that’s not how Jesus saw John. As I noted last week, there are several occasions where Jesus plainly stated that John was Elijah:

Matthew 11.11-15 (CEB; emphasis added):

“I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is violently attacked as violent people seize it. All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John came. If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let the person who has ears, hear.

Matthew 17:10-13 (CEB; emphasis added):

The disciples asked, “Then why do the legal experts say that Elijah must first come?”

Jesus responded, “Elijah does come first and will restore all things. In fact, I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they didn’t know him. But they did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way the Human One is also going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples realized he was telling them about John the Baptist.

And, as we saw from last weeks Gospel reading, the description of John matches that of Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1.1-8 with Mark 1.1-8).

Lastly, speaking about the end of the Old Covenantal Jewish age, Malachi wrote, “I am sending Elijah the prophet to you, before the great and terrifying day of [Yahweh] arrives” (Malachi 4.5 (CEB); adapted).

So, in some very real but very mystical sense, John the Baptist was Elijah. He just didn’t know it.*

How often do others see in us things that we don’t see in ourselves? As indicated above, I do it all the time. All I seem to see is the falseness, the darkness. But I’m working on that.

What about you? Has G‑d used others to show you something? Has G‑d used them to tell them things about yourself? Things that G‑d wants you to do? Things that G‑d has called you to do? Maybe you can’t see them. During this season of Advent, this season of waiting, this season of preparation, think about the times that others have said things to you about what they see in you. Maybe that’s where G‑d is speaking to you. You never know…you might just be the next Mother Teresa or Mahatma Ghandi or Pope Francis or Thích Nhất Hạnh or Thomas Merton.



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


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Or he knew that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem understood the coming of Elijah as the actual, physical person of Elijah. And his answer reflects the error of their view.

07 December 2014

Weekly Gospel Reflection — The Second Sunday of Advent

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, G‑d’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
       “Prepare the way for the Lord;
       make his paths straight.”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted G‑d to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

When people eventually find out I’m a priest, I usually get one of two questions, “Where’s your church?” or “A Catholic priest? But you’re married?” For a lot of people, the only type of priest they know of is the Catholic kind who “can’t” get married. I then usually go through something like, “Well, not a catholic priest in that way…” I might even say something like, “There are other kinds of priests — Orthodox, Celtic, Anglican, Old Catholic — and they’re allowed to marry.” It still freaks out some people.

I remember sitting at a table with a group of people when they found out that I was priest and one woman just couldn’t wrap her mind around it. She kept asking questions to another person about me and I was sitting across from her!

With the other question, it’s equally as difficult to try and explain. For a lot of people, especially in Oklahoma, the idea of a priest or minister equals a church building with a parish or congregation. Again, I have to say something like, “No, I don’t serve in a traditional church. I serve the community. I serve at my job. Plus I’ll lead a service in my home.”

Blank stares…

At one of Lindisfarne Community annual retreats, one of the other priests said, “We’re ontological priests.” And that was it. That explains it very well.

To me.

Others still look at me like a deer caught in the headlights.

As we know, ontology is “a branch of metaphysics concerned with the relations and nature of being.” So, an ontological priest is more about being than doing. As John Wesley said, “I look on all the world as my parish.” For me, that means that I’m to be Christ where I’m at — my job, my home, the store, etc. — every moment of every day. In those places, I’m to be the best example of Christ I can be and hopefully I can point others to Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, I see John the Baptist* in that same light. The passage states, “John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted G‑d to forgive their sins” (verse 4). Here we see that John the Baptist was like John Wesley — “the wilderness” was his parish. He wasn’t in some building running a religious business but in the world — where the people were — meeting them where they were at.

His mission, to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus, was to point away from himself to Christ. Even his baptism was only a foreshadowing of the work Jesus would do. Is our calling any different? Are we not called to point people to Jesus? Or are we to show them Jesus by our examples? In other words, aren’t we to be Jesus in the here and now?

I think the vocation of followers of Jesus today — of “Christians,” little christs — is to like mirrors reflecting Jesus to the world. Our actions, and our words, are to be as close as possible to Jesus as we can get. Of course, we’ll always fall short. I mean, when was the last time you walked on water or fed 5,000 children, women, and men?

At the same time, however, while we’re mimicking Jesus, we’re given great opportunity to point to him. “Why are you helping us with this protest against racial profiling, inequality, and injustice?” “Because of Jesus,” could be our response. “We’re all connected because of Jesus. We’re all One.”

And this Jesus I’m talking about is not the Jesus of religious fundamentalism. I’m referring to the Jesus who sided with the oppressed. Who called the outcasts his friends. Who challenged the status quo. Who opposed to the power systems of his day. Who was called the Prince of Peace. I’m referring to the Jesus of the Gospels.

As we go throughout our day-to-day lives, let’s be mindful of times and ways we can reflect that Jesus — be that Jesus to others around us. This isn’t easy work. It’s hard work. Probably the hardest work we’ve ever been tasked with. Nonetheless, that’s what following Jesus is all about. And when we do that, when we reflect Jesus to the world, we help the world prepare for its own encounter with the true Jesus. The world doesn’t need to only experience Jesus through us — it can welcome him to itself. And each time that happens, another piece of creation is transformed into the Realm of G‑d.

So, again, where can we be servants of G‑d in our daily lives? Where are the places and people who need to experience Christ? It’s there in that “wilderness” where we’ll find our parish.



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

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* The description we’re given of John the Baptist is quite remarkable. The reader is at once to be reminded of the description of Elijah the prophet given in 2Kings 1.1-8. It’s to help the reader see that, according to the prophecies, Elijah did indeed come before the coming of G‑dself to establish G‑d’s Realm. Elijah was the sign of the closing of the Old Covenant age and the preparation of G‑d’s Realm. We see from the description of John the Baptist that he was indeed, in some mystical sense, Elijah (see Malachi 4.5; Matthew 11.11-15; Matthew 17.10-13).

30 November 2014

Weekly Gospel Reflection — The First Sunday of Advent

“In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

“Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

“But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”

I had just started clawing my way out of the ruins of what used to be my spiritual foundation and the things I was seeing was quite startling. G‑d was becoming so much bigger than just one religion. My “way of seeing” was changing and I was doubtful of where I was going because of it. I needed some assurance, some “proof,” that I was seeing things more clearly. Honestly, if almost all of my previous beliefs were rubble, how could I be sure I was heading in the right direction?

That morning, as I sat there in my car in a parking lot at an intersection of two major highways, I said a simple prayer, “G‑d...I really need to hear from you. I need to know if I’m on the right path.”

Nothing. No claps of thunder. No warm feeling in my heart. Just the sound of the traffic going by.

I got out of the car and everything grew quiet.

Except…

Except for the song of a sparrow. She was in the tree next to my car and she was singing her heart out. I was in the midst of a wonderful worship service in a sacred cathedral.

I started to cry.

In that moment, G‑d was speaking to me through the sparrow-song. I was on the right path.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we’re given a passage that talks about the coming of Christ.

Sure.

One that tells us to be prepared because “no one knows the day nor hour.”

Of course.

But it’s really a disconnected passage trying to convey a message of watchfulness.

The “coming” mentioned here was not for us. Is not for us. It had a very specific audience — Jesus’ first followers and first century Israel. This passage (and it’s parallels in Matthew 24 and Luke 21) is about G‑d’s judgment upon first century Israel and the end of the Old Covenant age. This coming in judgment took place in 70 CE, roughly one generation after the death of Jesus. When Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, G‑d’s Realm was fully established. The old had passed away and, behold, the new had come.

In other words, we know when G‑d in Christ came in fulfillment of this passage — 70 CE.

We also know when G‑d in Christ comes at the end of the Advent season — 25 December.

The idea, then, of being watchful in this passage doesn’t make a lot of sense to us today.

Being watchful, though, is exactly what struck me about this passage.

How am I watchful today? How am I alert? How am I actively seeking and waiting for G‑d? The story Jesus tells about a person leaving for a trip and returning surprisingly falls apart if the traveler turned up when and where the servants were expecting.

Likewise, if we expect to find Jesus in the Eucharist, for example, that doesn’t take a lot of watching and attentiveness, does it? Jesus gives the impression that we should be open to his presence in unexpected times and places and people.

The rude person at the store.

The hateful relative at the Thanksgiving table.

The prejudice person who kills a child of color.

The looting and pillaging that takes place after an unjust ruling.

The teenage boy who rapes and bullies underage girls at his school.

This is where we need to be watchful for Christ. It’s in those places and in those faces that we need to be seeking the face of G‑d.

But here’s the tough part…

Sometimes, we’re to be Christ in those places.

Perhaps we shouldn’t so much seek Christ in those places or in other people. Perhaps we are to be Christ in those situations.

Maybe the unexpected coming of Christ is through us. Maybe Christ is wanting to come to others and we are the one to bring him.

So, instead of seeking the coming of G‑d in Christ through others, maybe we should be aware of Christ coming to others through us.

Now that’s truly unexpected.



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC