08 February 2015

Weekly Gospel Reflection — Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.

That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”

He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

I recently saw a t.v. show about this guy who bought a 1950’s recreational vehicle (RV) for $3,800. It was always a dream of his and his wife to travel the country and camp in an RV. Well, his wife was diagnosed with cancer and passed over before she could live her dream. But the man carried on in her memory.

The show was about the restoration of this trailer. It started out as a shell of it former glory and it’s future glory could only be seen in the minds and imaginations of the restoration team. The man wanted the trailer like he remembered them when he was a kid.

So the team got together and fulfilled the man’s dream. The trailer was restored to its former glory — with a few modern touches.

The time came for the big reveal and the man was moved to tears. It was more than he could have hoped for. Not only was the trailer restored but, in my estimation, the man was restored, too. He could now take that road trip in honor and memory of his wife.

Today’s gospel reading brings all of this to the front for me. Over and over again, we see Jesus restoring people to their former state — the demon possessed have been released from their bondage and Peter’s mother-in-law was healed of her disease. They can all now join in the grand restoration program that Jesus is doing. They don’t have to stay the way they were, they can go on to something bigger, grander, than they have ever dreamed of.

And the good news is that it’s not just for that small little group. As the last part points out, this restoration project — the expansion of G‑d’s Realm “on earth as in heaven” — is for all creation because that’s why Jesus came.

As we look at our world today, what areas do we see that need to be restored? What comes to my mind is relationships — our relationships with each other. We’ve become so distant from each other that it takes a horrifying situation to bring us back together to nurture and care for one another. But, alas, when the time of healing has ended, we return to our isolated, individually imprisoned lives. What are the actions we can do that will start eroding the walls between us and our neighbors and erect loving, caring relationships? Other than violence and starvation, what things can we do to help better understand our “enemies” so that, if violence does happen we don’t return the same? How can we build bridges of forgiveness and healing?

The second thing that comes to my mind is our relationship with nature. It seems to me that quite a number of us just don’t buy into the reality of climate change. That is, the truth that humanity plays a major part in the impact of our world. Whether they’re pesticides we spray on our plants or the genetic modification of our food or the outdated ancient fuels we continue to use to propel our vehicles and warm our homes, our continued use of harmful chemicals is taking a huge toll on our planet. It seems that we’ve truly become a people of instant gratification. We don’t seem to care what happens to future generations as long as we don’t upset our comfortable lives right now. But when Mother Nature lashes out with extreme weather, we had better listen. Sure, like I mentioned above, we come together to help each other in those situations, but it’s time we start really looking at the cause of these “natural disasters” and come up with imaginative and creative ways of, not only restoring the old, but of finding new ways of balance for an ever changing planetary impact we are having in our world. What are some of the things that we can do now that will aid in the healing of creation? Yes, of course, things won’t change overnight, but we can take steps now to bring harmony to our environment and leave a legacy of planetary caring for our children and grandchildren unto the ages of ages. What inconveniences are we willing to suffer for a better world for future generations? Are we willing to suffer them?

The final relationship, though it shouldn’t be considered the last one for it’s the foundation of the other two, is our relationship with G‑d. What does that look like for us right now? Are we satisfied with it? Do we feel that we’re just giving “lip service” in our relationship with G‑d? Is there any depth to our religions or are they merely keeping up appearances for the sake of onlookers? Jesus warned that our “righteousness” must be better than that of the religious leaders of his day. Can we honestly say that it is? In that world, it seemed that a lot of the religious people didn’t really have a lot to do with the injustices of the “real world.” They were more concerned about themselves and their spiritual lives. Jesus showed us that there’s no division between the two worlds — that one’s relationship with G‑d must lead to faithful actions in the practical world. Are our actions — our orthopraxis (right-doing), our good deeds — being shaped by our relationship with G‑d? And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not only talking about taking care of the poor. I’m talking about everyday life. Does our relationship with G‑d really impact our daily lives? Are we more caught up in nationalism (blind allegiance to one’s country) than following The Way of Jesus? Do we realize that those two ideas are polar opposites most of the time? Are we more concerned with our “right” to “keep and bear arms” than we are in the deaths of children? Where does our allegiance truly lie?

May G‑d grant us eyes to see the “former glory” of humans, non-humans, and all creation and the vision and imagination of seeing them move from the simple restoration to the unlimited potential of G‑d’s Realm. May G‑d grant us the courage to stand with the Prince of Peace in the face of nationalism, war-profiteering, and the segregations of people, and the destructive impact on our planet for monetary gain and “creature comforts”. May G‑d grant us the kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to move beyond our mind barriers and reach out to our neighbors and so-called enemies with the Love of Christ so that we can all truly be One.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

01 February 2015

Weekly Gospel Reflection — Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You’re the holy one from G‑d.”

“Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.

Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Following The Way of Jesus should impact every area of our lives. There shouldn’t be a difference between “sacred” and “secular.” There should only be The Way.

To often, though, especially in today’s world, things are separated into different spaces. For example, at work, one’s not to talk about “religion or politics.” In some families, this is especially true! Another one is, “Don’t bring work home with you.” What that means is your “work life” is your “work life” and your “home life” is your “home life.” And while I get the basic idea, they’re really false boundaries. Your religious and political views shape you as a human being. The things that happen at work affect your mood and, therefore, they affect how you may react to your family once you get home. And that works the other way around, too. Something tragic happens at home and it will certainly impact your “work life.”

What we’re really saying when we make the above statements is that expressing one’s views or opinions will most likely make other uncomfortable (at the least) or cause a huge argument or lead to a violent outburst (at the worst). Therefore, it’s better not to say anything at all. In other words, people don’t want to be confronted with different views or opposing ideas. They want to continue on thinking that their way of seeing the world is “right” and other ways of seeing the world are “wrong.”

But that’s not reality. People aren’t made up like a computer application where this app only does this thing and that app only does that thing. People are more like the operating system (the OS). The OS is the underlying software that allows these (sometimes) diametrically opposing apps to run smoothly and side by side without any issues (I could make a jab at my least favorite OS here, but I won’t. For that, see my other posts.).

In other words, people are integrated. Like I said above, our beliefs shape our actions — whether they’re political or religious beliefs. I think one would be hard pressed to find a Democrat who opposed women’s rights or a Republican who was against the ownership and use of firearms (before I get nasty comments, I’m not saying those people don’t exist, but, in my neck of the woods, those people are pretty rare).

So, our lives are more complicated and integrated than post-Enlightenment society would want us to believe. I think it’s just this type of thing that’s meant by Jesus’ teaching has authority in today’s Gospel reading.

A lot of the religious tradition of Jesus’ time were about appearances and not so much about real life and how it works. There’s a classic story that illustrates just this point. In John 5.1-18, Jesus heals a lame person and tells him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man does just that. He gathers his things and heads home. But this took place on the Sabbath and there were laws that prohibited that type of behavior. So the man is accosted by the religious authorities and questioned about his breaking of the law. In other words, they were “religious” without any positive connection to the real world. The religious theories about what’s lawful and what’s not may be great in seminary, but in the “real world,” some things just don’t work like that.

I remember when my brother-in-law returned from seminary. He told me, “I don’t know how to talk to people anymore.” What he meant by that was, before he “went in,” he was a street preacher. He did mission work in the ghettos of the world. But now? He didn’t know how to even talk to those people. There was no connection between academia and the average person.

But here comes Jesus teaching with authority. The things Jesus talks about deal with this life as well as the next life. His teachings and actions are not solely about “what happens when you die,” but about the here-and-now, too. Jesus is about balance and presence. He’s not teaching some great philosophical ideals — they have practical uses. “Do you want to know what the Realm of G‑d is like?” he asks. “It’s not about ‘going to heaven when you die.’ It’s about this…” And he heals the possessed man. That’s a very scary thing! It instantly questions the religious authorities of the day and their power. It brings into question their whole religious institutional business. In short, the appearance of Jesus changes everything.

May G‑d grant us the wisdom of seeing the world in this way. Of knowing that our religious views impact our lives and the lives of others in deeply profound ways. May we seek courage to reexamine our faith and its impact on ourselves, our neighbors, and creation.

Let me end this post with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that we use in preparation for the Prayers of the People in Grace Garden’s Common Prayer:

“Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion, let’s fill our hearts with our own compassion — toward others and towards all living beings. Let’s pray that all living things realize that they’re all brothers and sisters, all nourished from the same Source of life. Let’s pray that we ourselves cease to be the cause of suffering to each other. Let’s plead with ourselves to live in a way which won’t deprive others of air, food, shelter, or a chance to live. With humility, with awareness of the existence of life, and of the sufferings that are going on around us, let’s pray for the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.”
Thich Nhat Hanh (amended)

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC