“My name is legion”

by Mitch Palmer

“Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion;’ for many demons had entered him.” He called himself Legion but that is not his true name. That is not who he is. It is, rather, what has become of him, what has happened to him. Let’s not get stuck on the demons. That’s simply descriptive of the emotional and spiritual disruption and “dis-integration” of our lives, a reality all of us have experienced. That he knows himself to be Legion means the causes, sources, and manifestations of this disruption and disintegration are many and great. I know there are times when I and my life could rightly be called Legion. I suspect you could say the same thing.

At a historical level Legion refers to a Roman army unit of about 6000 soldiers. So when this man says that he is Legion he is saying, “I have been overrun. I am divided and separated. I am fragmented and fractured. I am disrupted. I am overwhelmed. My life is broken into 6000 pieces.” Sound familiar? Ever felt like that?

This man is lost to himself. He has no center. He no longer understands who he is. He is without an identity. He has been dispossessed of himself and his humanity. His life has been shattered into pieces. He is alien to himself and alienated from his life. All this leaves him vulnerable, naked, exposed, and unclothed. He no longer lives in a house in the city, but in the tombs. He is in essence dead to himself.

Who of us does not know what that is like? One day we look in the mirror and say, “Who are you? I don’t recognize you.” Other days we say, “I don’t know what’s come over me. I’m just not myself today.” Our head is filled with conflicting thoughts and voices. We chase each thought but get nowhere. We listen to each voice but know nothing. There are times when we lose our bearings in life and no longer know who we are or what our life is all about. We silently wonder if we are going crazy. It is a place and time of separation, loneliness, and isolation. We are exiled from ourselves and each other.

We know what this man’s life is like. Each of us could tell about a time when our life was shattered and left in thousands of pieces that we just could not put back together. Dreams and hopes. A marriage. The death of a loved one. Faith and beliefs. We know what it is like to lose our self, our life, our name and identity. We know what it is like to be Legion.

I don’t know what in your life has shattered. I don’t know the thousands of pieces with which you live. I don’t know the Legion of your life. You have those answers, but I can tell you this. Whatever it might be it is the place to which Christ comes. Jesus comes to the Legion of our lives. He did for the man in today’s gospel and he does for each one of us.

Jesus steps out onto the land of this foreign country, the land of Legion. He comes to us as the one with inner clarity, focus, knowing, and understanding. He is the presence of unity, wholeness, and integration. He is the image of who we are and who we can become. That’s why we continue to seek and follow Jesus as our teacher, guide, and savior. He is and has the life we want.

Jesus comes unafraid of death or the tombs in which this man lives. He is not distracted by the man’s craziness. He is not repulsed by the man’s nakedness or appearance. He is not limited by the chains and shackles that bind this man’s life. He is unchallenged by the guard. Legion holds no power over Jesus.

 “When the man saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’” Within that question are recognition and non-recognition, likeness and unlikeness, sameness and difference. The man knows Jesus is nothing like him and yet, something within the man knows he is like Jesus. Something within him can still recognize Jesus; the divine one, the one who saves, the one who is whole, complete, and holy.
We can only ever recognize that which we already know, that which at some level is already a part of us. Despite the presence of Legion, the true image of and within this man was never completely lost or destroyed. It may have been taken over, covered up, forgotten, denied, or ignored but it was never absent. It was this true image, a reflection of Jesus himself, that recognized Jesus. That is as true for us as it is the man in today’s gospel.

Jesus stands before us as the mirror, the image, the truth-teller of who we really are. He gives us back ourselves. He reveals the original beauty of our creation. He stands before us with a truth that challenges us at the places in which our lives have become fragmented and distorted, in the ways in which we are not true to ourselves, and in the times when our identity has been lost and shattered.

Jesus comes to the man seeing and knowing a truth about him that the man can neither see nor know for himself. How can he? He has been convinced that his name is Legion. Jesus knows otherwise. In the face of that truth the unclean spirit cannot remain. Legion can never be our final reality or ultimate identity. That will always be Jesus. That is the truth that commanded Legion to leave. That is the truth that puts life back together. That is the truth that clothed this man, returned him to himself, and seated him at Jesus’ feet.

Yes, we know what it is like to be Legion. We can tell that story. For every story about Legion, however, there is a counter story. It is the story of our how our life was put back together, how we were given back ourselves, how we were seated at the feet of Jesus. It’s the story Jesus wants told. We need to tell it. Others need to hear it.

Amen.

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What Really Matters — July 17 2016

Today I think of air Captain Chesley Sullenberger III.  Born in 1951 in Denison, Texas, He was a faithful member of his Methodist Church and an excellent student. By January 15 2009 he had been a pilot for 30 years, with 20,000 hours of flying experience.  He had been a fighter jet pilot, a member of national air safety boards and air accident investigations.

On that day in January 2009, his civilian Airbus A320 airplane took off from La Guardia Airport with 155 people on board; then it struck a flock of birds and lost both engines.  He was over the Bronx or northern Manhattan with a fully fueled widebodied airplane, so untold disaster loomed.  Not distracted or paralyzed by fear, with vast skill, experience, and focus, he brought his plane safely to an emergency landing in the Hudson River.  All souls were safely evacuated.  It is about to appear as a movie titled “Sully”, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney.
The message to me is this: focus on God’s calling to you, not being distracted by anything. (Sullenberger is the author of the New York Times best-seller Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, a memoir of his life and of the events surrounding Flight 1549, published in 2009 by HarperCollins.)  Focus, without distraction, is what our readings are about today.

Today’s gospel reading on Martha and Mary, from Luke chapter 10 verse 38-42, concludes that chapter.  That chapter 10 began with the mission of the seventy, which refers to the mission of all of us who follow Christ.  The chapter continued with the summary of the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  That is the core value that all of us who follow the one God hold and share with the world.  The chapter continues with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which directs us, on our life of mission in the name of Jesus, to cross ethnic and all social boundaries in the whole world, and to care for the suffering person irrespective of how different they may be from us.

Finally, that chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel ends with this story of Mary and Martha.  Here, Martha is distracted with many activities, while Mary has chosen the single good or spiritual portion of listening to Jesus.  The thrust of this gospel reading is this: That, on our mission we should be focused on God’s call to us in our life.  We should not be distracted by fear and anxiety; and we should not be distracted by the things of this world.

There is an echo here of the message of the angel Gabriel to Mary the mother of Jesus, about thirty years before, early in Luke’s gospel.  Jesus’ mother Mary responded with the words, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord: be it unto me according to God’s word.”  Here is Luke again and again emphasizing the role of women, and emphasizing Jesus as the example that we can and should emulate.  As Jesus is focused on God, so we must focus on Jesus.

Remaining focused on God’s call to us appears in the other readings for today, in Genesis 18, of Abraham meeting the three angelic beings at Mamre.  Abraham was still learning to follow the covenant that God made with him in Genesis chapter 15, that he would be the father in faith to countless numbers of people in the future.  He was still learning to focus on and believe in God’s call to him, and not be distracted by anything else.

Remaining focused on God’s call to us is the subject of our Psalm 15 today.  The author does not want to be distracted by enemies, by money, or by anything else.

In our reading from Colossians 1, we learn that the whole universe, that all things, are held together by Jesus Christ.  That the secret of the ages has been revealed: Christ in you, the hope of glory.  When we focus on Jesus, we are focusing on reality, on what holds the universe together.

This idea of focus, and of not being distracted appears in different ways in more recent times:

Last Monday, July 11, we remembered Benedict of Nursia of approximately 540 A.D./ C.E.  The Episcopal Church rests upon Benedictine spirituality, for example, in sanctifying time.  Every day begins and ends with prayer, and there is prayer during the hours of the day.  During each hour there are designated activities.  Whether the activity is menial or great, it is to further God’s reign.  There is the sanctifying of material goods.  Each implement, like a shovel, must be seen as a divine thing, like the world itself, and must be treated with respect.  So the whole of time and matter is offered to the call of God.  Benedict’s Rule begins with the word, “Listen”, or “Obey”.  We must be focused on God’s call and not distracted.

In my own life I remember the eight years of studying for my doctorate in the New Testament.  For those eight years, all done part time with three children, there were an average of three hours of study and research before breakfast each morning.  I knew what it was to be focused on a goal and a calling, despite any distraction which might appear.

Last week we heard of the death of Edmond Browning, who was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1986 onward for 12 years.  His great focus, theme and calling was this: There will be no outcasts in the church.  With that rallying call, ‘No outcasts’, he led us through the AIDS pandemic which began in 1984.  He taught us not to be afraid, and to care for each other even in the face of death.

For days, weeks, months and years now we have been surrounded by violence around the world,  There is no one cause.  It’s not only extreme religious groups,  Its not only gun laws,  Its not any particular ethnic or racial group.  It not only homophobia.  It has occurred in many countries and continents.  Politicians at times rant and rave and yet achieve very little.

In the midst of all this, Jesus’ call to us is the same as it has always been:  to listen to God’s call to us; to not be distracted by fear, or anxiety, or by the things of the world.

Are you caught up by fear, or anxiety, or by the things of the world?  The gospel today calls you back to your true identity of God’s call to you.  Listen to God.  Love and obey God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

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Outcasts accept Jesus — Lk 7:36- 8:3 — Sun Jun 12 2016

A central idea in today’s Gospel reading (Lk 7:36-8:3) is that it is the outcast person, or publicly recognized sinful person who accepts Jesus, as he accepts them.  The elite people (Simon) do not accept Jesus for who he says he is, and so they themselves keep their own distance from God’s grace.  The attitude of the heart is everything in the gospel reading today.

I remember at one time working in a city, where there were many Episcopal or Anglican parishes.  Yet two were remarkable by comparison.  One of the two parishes was on the side of a lovely mountain, where there were vineyards, and large properties, beautiful views, and great wealth.  The parish there was quite small in membership, however, and they were not very generous in their outreach.  The other or second of the two parishes was down on the lowlands.  The people there were much poorer, and life was tenuous and difficult.  The parish there was much larger, and the people much more generous as a percentage, per capita.  The contrast between these two parishes is just the same as the contrast between the woman in our gospel reading, and Simon.  The poor, outcast, repentant woman had an attitude of gratitude to God for forgiveness.  The wealthy Simon, had little thought of any need for forgiveness, and for that reason had little gratitude to God.

In God’s sight, little forgiveness (was) shown to Simon, not because of his conduct, but because of his fundamental (judgmental) attitude” (Fitzmyer p. 692).

By contrast, the woman in this story, before this story began, had already realized and accepted God’s forgiveness for her sins, and was filled with overwhelming gratitude.  She expressed her gratitude with her tears, her hair, and her perfume.  The same quality of penitence and the acceptance of forgiveness are reflected also in the sinner David’s Psalm 32, and also in our OT story of the sinner David in relation to Bathsheba, and to Uriah (1 Ki 19:1-8).  Both the woman in the gospel, and King David had confessed their sin, had sought God’s forgiveness, and realized and accepted that God had forgiven them.  Both of them had been freed in their hearts.  I too can repent, and then accept that I am released from captivity to guilt and resentment.  I can live with an attitude of gratitude to God for that forgiveness.

What is your and my attitude to others, and what is your and my attitude to God?  We should realize and accept our sorely needed forgiveness.  We should have an overwhelming attitude of gratitude for how we experience God’s love and forgiveness.

Our Eucharistic service begins with the Gloria — an attitude of praise and thanksgiving.  The heart is the thing.  Do you and I repent, accept God’s forgiveness, and then open our hearts in thankfulness, love, and praise to God?

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When Our Divisions Increase, Finding Healing

At this time of the year (May 8) we have the Feast of the Ascension (just past), today’s gospel reading (John 17:20-26) and the Feast of Pentecost coming up next Sunday.  So by virtue of the Ascension, all things have been placed under Christ, by this gospel reading all believers are unified in Christ, and by virtue of us anticipating Pentecost, we are praying to be empowered by the Holy Spirit (who is the same as Christ and God).

HUMAN DIVISION AND DISREGARD

To the contrary of that gospel vision of unity, however, we find ourselves embroiled and implicated in a world of continuing division, human misery, and conflict. Nations and politicians are adversarial. There is a growing mountain of laws, locks, alarms, security cameras, controls on travel, or other types of policing.  Nevertheless, they do not bring peace and don’t solve the cause of the problem.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus prays for our unity:  “That they may become completely one.”

Some Christians live opulently, while other Christians live in misery, and this is reflected on Sunday mornings around the world.  Internally, Christian families sometimes reflect relationships that are badly divided, oppressive, or abusive.

In the face of all this, in our gospel reading today Jesus says, “That they may become completely one.”

Yet, in all places, there is the occasional love that heals, the outstanding groups or individuals who call us back from our divisions and violence.  For example, almost all of us have known the empowering love of a mother, for which we express gratitude not only on Mother’s Day.  It is a love which fosters in us a sense of security and self worth, and it draws us towards our markedly different siblings and members of the wider family. 

Another example is that the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes people exemplify this spirit in whole communities, individuals who address or bridge social divisions.  It is often in the name of God that they do so.

Another example of Christ-like healing and empowering love is in Louise Erdrich’s book titled LaRose:  “When a 5-year-old boy is accidentally shot and killed during a North Dakota deer hunt in 1999, the family of the father who pulled the trigger decides to give their own son, named LaRose, to the grieving family.  This is a tradition among the Ojibwe people – and LaRose is a novel that stays haunting to the end.” (This summary is by the publisher Harper Collins.)

UNITY WITH JESUS AND EACH OTHER

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus lays out his social program,  which is quite simple:  those who follow or emulate Christ are one.  According to Jesus, Christians are closer to one another than citizens of a country and they are closer to one another than members of human families.  For those who follow Christ are as much united with one another as God the Father and God the Son are united with one another.  There is therefore no room for prejudice of any kind amongst those who follow Jesus.  Rather, we should be actively engaged in overcoming social barriers.  For Jesus, the Christian prostitute, priest, and president are a single united being; they are one united being with the pauper, artisan, and investment banker.

There is power in the gospel of Jesus to energize us to investigate social conditions, to understand, to build communication, to build bridges, to heal, and to work towards a better future.  The power of his love is greater than any or all of our divisions.

Roy Campbell on an air trip (on approximately Friday 14 May 2010) was greatly impressed by two of his companions on the journey:  A paraplegic and his sister, who has cared for him devotedly for thirty years.  Such Christ-like loving care is always deeply striking and moving to see.  The reading from Acts regarding Philippi (Acts 16:16-34) says that the jailer of Paul and Silas, gripped by fear of the earthquake there, intended to commit suicide: but even to a potential suicide, love can come and can heal, and, in time, bring a future that is good or better.  Love heals.  Actions which help those released from jail to build a new life are acts of Christ like love.   Love that heals can be of many kinds – romantic, congregation, family, colleagues, friends, or a religious or other community.

This prison scene can remind us of how much we can help those that are released from prison, and are trying to find work and other kinds of support. I know a self-storage business owner who deliberately employed such persons.  Assisting such individuals can further help society by building productive members of society, and reducing recidivism (or repeating crime and imprisonment).

We pray for all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit:  In the name of Christ, we can love and care for groups of people – for prisoners, for the poor, for the sick, for the oppressed, near or far. Do we follow Jesus?  If so, his love dwells in us.  We are all bound together by the chains of his love.  His people are inescapably drawn together as one.

As we seek ways to deepen and express our unity with others this week,  praying for the empowerment of God’s Spirit, our gospel tells us that those around us will recognize the divinity of Christ; and  we will see Christ’s glory.

 

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A Grim Isolation

Last week there was a call to abolish solitary confinement in US prisons, at least for under aged prisoners.  Solitary confinement is a very grim kind of isolation, soul destroying

The Dutch artist Heironymus Bosch (d. 1516) is remembered in part for depictions of hell.  Solitary confinement should be abolished, because solitary confinement is indeed a kind of torture or hell.

Another person remembered this year is Cervantes, the famous writer of the book (published in 1605) Don Quixote which has been called one of the greatest novels ever written at least in the West.  Quixote journeys with the earthy farmer Sancho Panza to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and restore justice.  The partnership between Quixote and Sancho Panza is a beautiful description of partnership and companionship – a reaching out for community, which is the very opposite of solitary confinement.

The parade today in Millville is a celebration of community as well: the community of this town.

Our readings today describe the community that there is in the Godhead between Father, Son And Holy Spirit.    Jesus identity with the Father is reflected in his love of and obedience to the Father.  Their unity recalls the prologue of John’s gospel, and the unity between the Shekinah (the glory) and the Memra (the word).

The Holy Spirit inspires the followers of Jesus to remember everything Jesus said, and to preach and teach to word to the world.  In the reading from Acts, we see the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of Lydia of Thyatira. In the Revelation reading we see the community of the believers with the Triune Godhead in the New Jerusalem, where everyone is healed by the leaves of the trees of life and the living water.

So each of us should remember that we are not alone: but rather, deepen our conversation and community with God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the Son Jesus Christ.

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Bridges… Destroying, or Building

The year 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s writings.  He described many remarkable characters – and villains.  In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, Edmond is the very picture of cold vengeance and self-interest.  By his actions, he destroys personal relationships, families, and a nation.  Unfortunately, that is not a remote and distant thing:  in our context, we encounter people showing that same cold selfishness in ways small or large.  We can see it in Syria in this moment in 2016.  If we look hard enough, we can see it in ourselves.  One business writer said that the golden rule is that the one who has the gold makes the rules.  Well, that is not the golden rule of Jesus, is it?

The love of God in Jesus (John 13v31-35) is different from that, and has completely the opposite effect.  On 4 May, we remember Monnica from Tagaste, in North Africa.  Her husband Patricius seems to have been of dissolute habits and a violent temper, and Monnica was widowed at the age of 40.  She was the mother of three children.  We know that the eldest one had a wild youth, and Monnica went to great lengths to pray for him and followed behind him to do everything she could to draw him to Christ.  It was not long after his conversion to Christ that Monnica died, in 387 AD/CE.  Her faith, love, and perseverance gave us that child, whom we know as St. Augustine, arguably the greatest theologian in Western Christianity.  That is a lovely remembrance as we approach mother’s day.

So we can contrast the egotism of Edmond with the self-giving love of Monnica.  There is nothing more important in our lives than love and relationships.

Turning to the gospel reading (John 13:31-35) Jerome said that in John’s old age his message was reduced to this:  “My little children love one another” – a combination of phrases from verses 33 and 34 in our gospel reading today.

In this gospel, the love of Jesus gives birth to the Christian community, he constitutes it, and he forms it.  After that, the love Jesus nurtures in us and between us is a sacrament; one which somehow through us actually represents Jesus himself in the world.  As we follow Jesus through our various experiences, he transfigures us to become more loving than we were before.  This appearance of the love of God in the world calls to those around us ever more than we did before.

If we follow Jesus, then we do not stop our loving at the boundaries of our families or even at the boundaries of the Christian community.  In the New Testament there is the description of the love of God in Christ reaching out to everyone.  God’s covenant love reaches out to us who are unworthy of it, and to everyone – to the middle and upper classes, to people suffering persecution, and to those who have been ejected from and rejected by their own communities for any reason.  God’s covenant love in Jesus is what heals and unites all people.

There are around us unsung examples of people who have spent years in caring work in our local community: Terry Troia, for example, caring for the hungry and homeless of Staten Island; and other gatherings of people of faith, united in caring for those in need.

To be spiritually healthy and growing, each of us, from the youngest to the oldest, needs to find a way we can be persistently showing the love of Christ – not only in donations, but by our actual personal presence.  One place in which caring work is needed is in visiting the sick, and those in prisons.  I spent some time reading through cases of imprisonment in the world in absolutely appalling conditions.  Each of us can choose to isolate ourselves from these things, as Shakespeare’s character Edmond did.  Otherwise, we can take some step, however small or great, to do something about them.

It is common wisdom that God looks after those who look after themselves.  At the beginning I referred to Shakespeare’s character Edmond, who looked after himself alone.  The bible does not say that God looks after those who look after themselves – otherwise, God would have looked after Edmond.  What is in the bible, in our gospel reading today, is that God glorifies himself in those who do not look after themselves alone, but who look after one another.

Let us be found among those caring not only for ourselves, and caring not only for our own families, but caring also for those beyond: even those that may seem to be our opponents.

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Premonition — Luke 12:1-8

A PREMONITION OF WHAT IS TO COME

Many people refer to the last speech by Martin Luther King by the title, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”.  It is the speech he gave on the day before his assassination, which was on April 4th 1968.  In his words at the end of that speech, King seemed to speak of his coming death:

And then I got to Memphis. And some began to …talk about the threats that were out. … Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those words were a mysterious prediction of the death of Martin Luther King, for, how could anyone have surely known of his impending assassination?

VERY EXPENSIVE PERFUME

In our Gospel reading today from John, chapter 12v1-8, we have the scene of Mary anointing of the feet of Jesus with extremely expensive perfume, costing near a year’s worth of a laborer’s pay.  That anointing was a mysterious prediction of the death of Jesus.   In ancient literature, you might anoint the head of someone, especially the head of a king at the time of his coronation.  Nevertheless, the anointing of the feet never appears in ancient literature.  It seems that the anointing of the feet is something which might have been done only be done in the case of death – the anointing of the feet of the corpse, in preparation for burial.  At the moment that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus, only a week before his crucifixion, no one living could have surely known that Jesus would be crucified before one week passed.  So this reading from the Gospel of John today gives us a remarkable or mysterious statement or prediction regarding Jesus’ preparation for death, both by Jesus and by Mary.

This scene also describes the way that Judas was interested in money.  In our reading today, Judas was interested in the sale value of the perfume.  As the gospels portray Judas, he was interested in money, even if it might cost his own soul.  Within the same week to come, we will read that Judas would sell Jesus for 30 silver pieces.

At this very event is Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.  That was the immediate cause of the authorities driving Jesus to his execution (in the Gospel of John, anyway).

In this reading from Luke 12 today we have Mary’s anointing of the feet of Jesus as the high point of (Mary’s) loving faith in him.  In the days to come, we will read about the session of the Sanhedrin, which convicted Jesus to death.  What a contrast with Mary!  For, that decision and action of the Sanhedrin was the supreme expression of (the) refusal (of the political and religious leaders) to believe (in Jesus as the Son of God).   So we have two very different things:  We have  the extraordinary love and faithful  action of Mary,  on the one hand; and on the other hand, we have the action of the Sanhedrin.  The common thread in both is  prophecy and approach of Jesus’ death.

Is there one person whom we would have anointed their feet with our tears, and to have anointed their feet with perfume so costly, that it took our income from one whole year to pay for that perfume?  Do we love one person to that extent?  Perhaps we actually do have someone in our hearts like that to us.

As we approach Holy Week, the challenge that is in this reading is to pray for God to give us Mary’s kind of love, in our hearts, for Jesus Christ.  The kind of love that means that we would anoint his feet with our tears; to anoint his feet with the most expensive perfume we could possibly purchase.  Her reason for doing this, is something that she does on behalf of us all: that Jesus’ coming death on the cross on Good Friday, and his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday, means more to us than anything else in our entire existence.

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The Feast of the New Creation in Divine Community

 

 

Returning to a loving God, or continuing with deep seated rebellion, and wandering alone?

One Lenten author wrote this:  “I remember a mother coming to talk to me about her drug addicted son.  He had been a trial to his family for a long time.  He had lied to his mother, stolen from her, and even physically threatened her.  He would leave home or be asked to leave but he would always return.  I asked the mother why she kept putting up with this misery.  She said simply, ‘Love always hopes.'”

We welcome, attend and support community initiatives or forums which work on ways of responding to drug or other addictions.

However, we sometimes try to give up on a relationship.  Nothing can take the relationship away, however.

We may want to give up on the poor and suffering, or refugees like those from Syria today.  But history shows that the future of any society depends on how it treats the poor, the elderly, and children.

We try to give up on difficult relationships, but we find ‘famine’ in their absence.

Divine love never runs low on hope.  If one person ‘gives up’, another may step in to heal the breach.  At the time of the breakup of my parents’ marriage, my grandfather became a father figure to me, who came to me in my grief and aloneness; and had compassion on me; and embraced me in countless ways.

Lk 15.11-32: “Yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

Henri Nouwen was so taken by Rembrandt’s painting that he wrote The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (1992).”  In the custom of that region of the Mediterranean, for the child to ask for their inheritance was tantamount to wishing the parent dead.  What a wound in a parent’s heart!  Yet, the loving Father did not give up.  Note that no one told the father that the son was coming home.  The father personally waited and with his own eyes strained for the first far off sign of a familiar figure returning home – so it cannot have been a very productive time on the farm!

The loving father’s eyes became fixed on something that the farm workers could not see.  They still could not see what it was, while the Father was already running across the field, taking the shortest way to intercept the thin, lone figure of his son, coming home.

The son suffered adversity.  If adversity brings us home, let adversity roll on.  As Shakespeare said, “Sweet are the uses of adversity / Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous/ Wears yet a precious jewel in his head” (As You Like It Act 2 Sc I).

God works and waits to bring us home.  Our parents and our children wait to have us come home, in our hearts, to them.

Is this to be yet one more day on which our response to them is that of a stone heart? Or can we allow our hard hearts to break, can we allow ourselves not to creep home, but to “run” home, home to God, home to parents, home to children.  We do not merely greet them politely, but rather fall on their necks and kiss them.   This is the very picture of the servant in Phil 2.

Do you experience a “famine” in space between yourself and God, or between yourself and a parent or a child?  If so, then here is the feast of the new creation in Christ:  community.  “Hear, o Israel: love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your being, and all of your mind, and your neighbour”– parents, children, and the suffering stranger–“as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

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Becoming Free and Fruitful

In our first reading (Exodus 3:1-15) the same God who had met with and made the great covenant with Abraham hundreds of years before (in Genesis chapter 15) now meets with Moses.  The epic journey of humans with God, the journey of faith, continues to unfold.

The true story of Moses is a dramatic one.  Up to this spectacular encounter with Yahweh, Moses had been raised in the palace along with the man who by the time of this reading has now become Pharaoh of Egypt.  So the great Pharaoh is the half brother of Moses!

Moses has been an impulsive person, who went so far as to murder an Egyptian slave driver.  Fleeing to the desert and now surviving by minding livestock, the originally quite promising Moses is now a refugee from vengeful Pharaoh.

When Moses followed his own will, the result was pitiful.  So Moses’ life at 80 years old or so has become a picture of futility.  It is a bit like the Stephen King book “1922”, where a murder results in complete disaster for the perpetrator.

This scene of Moses meeting with God in the burning bush is brilliantly portrayed in the Disney movie, “Prince of Egypt”.  In this meeting, Yahweh says to Moses, “I am who I am” – or, “I will be who I will be.”  Insofar as Moses engages with and can learn to identify himself with Yahweh and with the divine purposes, Moses will find his own identity, purpose, and reason for living – namely, to lead Israel out of slavery in the Exodus, the great signature moment of the nation of Israel.

In the gospel reading (Lk 13:1-9) we are warned that life is short and God expects us to be fruitful.  Fruitful is what a growing economy looks like, versus what a stagnant economy looks like – like Detroit today, perhaps.  We may think of all the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians chapter 5 (especially verses 22 and 23).

God expects us to show the fruits of the Spirit, each day.  There are many great examples of using God’s gifts in God’s service, fruitfully.  One example is a person whom we remember on February 27th in the church calendar: George Herbert who died in 1633 at 39 years old.  Life is short! George was a Welsh born English poet –enormously popular, deeply and broadly influential, and arguably the most skillful and important British devotional lyricist.  Also we recalled Eric Liddell on Feb 22nd, the great Olympian world record holding athlete from Scotland and rugby player remembered in the movie “Chariots of Fire”.  Eric became a missionary to China, dying in 1945 at 43 years old.  Our span of days is very brief!  Moses, George Herbert, and Eric Liddell all came to offer their lives in God’s service and God used them and their abilities for the divine purposes.

So we too are to take off our shoes because we stand in the presence of an awesome and holy God.  As we worship God and as we lay our lives before God, like the Israelites, we are freed from slavery and addiction.  As we follow God’s call to us, like Moses, Herbert and Liddell we find our true identity and the meaning of our lives.  Also, God brings from us fruit that is tasty and with a sweet aroma.

In honor of all those endowed with musical gifts who adorn our praise of God, here is one of George Herbert’s hymns:

King of glory, King of peace, I will love thee; and that love may never cease, I will move thee.  Thou hast granted my request, thou hast heard me; thou didst note my working breast, thou hast spared me.  Wherefore with my utmost art, I will sing thee; and the cream of all my heart, I will bring thee.  Though my sins against me cried, thou didst clear me; and alone, when they replied, thou didst hear me.  Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee; in my heart though not in heaven, I can raise thee.  Small it is in this poor sort to enroll thee; even eternity’s too short to extol thee.              

 

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Rising to What We Can Be — Lk 13:31-35

Lk13v31-35

Lent 2C Ps 27/ Gen 15.1-12, 17-18/ Phil 3.17-4.1/ Lk 13.(22-30) 31-35

RISING TO THE TRUTH OF WHAT WE CAN BE

In the news, there is often a recall of vehicles or other products, due to some fault that has caused destruction and pain.  The repair has to be undertaken by the manufacturer.  The individual owner of the product cannot undertake a reliable repair.  Another manufacturer cannot do the repair, and neither can the government.

In Lent, we are urged to self examination, for example, in meditating on the Ten Commandments.  God gave us the Ten Commandments, but quite evidently, we fail to keep them.  No one succeeds, and our failures cause a cascade of destruction and pain, a moral failure which spreads to ruin everything.  Something has to be repaired in us, the repair of which can be done by our maker alone.  No human agent can repair us.

Our gospel text for today is Lk 13.35: You will not see me at all until you say, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” One meaning is this: We will only see the healing or repair of God in our lives when we embrace Jesus Christ as our own Messiah.

The source of our failures is evil in some form or another, whether Satanic, individual, or social.  As with the truth told in the words of a good doctor, unpleasant as it may be, when told in love, the truth is medicine that can stop and heal that evil, and rescue us from further evil.

Jesus is portrayed as the Messiah who comes in history, in person, in space and in time, to rescue the people of God – a Messiah who is a healer, a prophet, a priest, and a king.  Notice the difference from any other world or religious leader:

  • Jesus comes as a healer – ‘Yesterday and today I am casting out demons and performing cures’.
  • Jesus comes as a prophet – ‘Jerusalem… kills the prophets’. A prophet tells God’s truth:  Jesus came as the truth, born of humanity, and of divine love and truth. Jesus loves us.  When he tells us the truth, it is not to dismay or destroy us, but in order to gather us ‘as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ in this lovely feminine image of God – to protect us:  to stop the evil, to heal us, and to prevent further evil. It is the kind of truth that our mother may tell us about ourselves. She knows us and knows our shortcomings; and when she says as much, it is for the sake of building us up into something better.
  • Jesus comes as a priest because he offers himself as a sacrifice for us, and is then raised by God – ‘On the third day I finish my work.’ At this time of year there is the anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.  As God’s love and truth in person, Jesus the Messiah came to carry out the most significant battle of all time, which he carried out alone: That, on the cross in Jerusalem, Jesus “must” (Lukan dei) meet and defeat the source and focus of evil in person.
  • Jesus comes as a king in his return in glory – ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

The Gospel says that we will not see the deliverance of God in our lives until we welcome the love and truth of God in Jesus as our own personal Messiah.  Or, vice versa, when we welcome God’s love and truth in the Messiah, then we will see the deliverance of God, and begin to realize what we were born for.

We live the life that God intends for us when we welcome those that remind us to worship God, remind us of love, and of truth; remind us of what we can become; and when we dare to rise to the fullness of life to which God points us.

Amen

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