Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stereo Hearts

2nd Sunday of Advent Cycle B 2011

The Lord be with you… and with your spirit.  Yes, that is the one response that all of us are going to struggle to learn in the next year.  It has been followed for as long as most of us can remember another, not to be named response, so as not to continue our confusion.  It will take time, but we will get it.  The Lord be with you… and with your spirit.  Amen.
When I hear the scriptures we just heard of “a voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’ (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Mark 1:1-8),”  I immediately think of two things.  The first is Advent, it means no more than four weeks to Christmas.  The second is the old question of ‘If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?’  This is very important to consider because the scriptures today have a lot of crying out in them.  But, if they are crying out to no one, or no one prepared to hear, do the scriptures make a sound?  Is grace being wasted?
The answer begins with the Prophet Isaiah today who says “Comfort, give comfort to my people” (40:1).  Take a moment to think of a time someone comforted you.  What happened in that exchange?  What were your emotions?  What was their response?  Did they have a lot to say or were they simply present to you and listening to you?  When I think of being comforted, it is usually a lot of me talking and very little said in return.  I think that often the best form of comfort is to listen.  In the Letter of Saint Peter we hear “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years” and I think we can all attest to how quickly time passes, especially at this time of year (2 Peter 3:8-14).  And when we are in need of comfort, when we are in distress, isn’t it nice to slow down, have someone listen to us, and recollect ourselves? 
I think I’ve said it before in a youtube video, but if you remind yourself once a day that “listening loves God” you will find yourself better able to hear,  better able to comfort, and better able to be comforted. 
God is always crying out, like a parent who has lost her child to a thief in the night.  When we sin, we separate ourselves from God.  We put noise between God’s voice and the ear of our heart.  God’s crying out so we can tune in clearly, not one decimal point off the channel so we get static.  Sort of like that catchy tune on the radio now I think God would say to us: “My heart's a stereo. It beats for your, so listen close. Hear my thoughts in every note. Make me your radio. Turn me up when you feel low. This melody was meant for you. Just sing along to my stereo.”  If that’s true, and I think we believe it is, why don’t we listen more?  Why don’t we listen and sing along?
Let’s go back to our tree in the forest.  Does it make a sound?  I think it does.  Yes.  But, just like with God, someone needs to tune in, someone needs to get close, to hear it.  The liturgical seasons can be used to renew us in a number of ways.  Often repentance is at the top of that list somewhere.  Advent in particular gives us words such as wake, watch, prepare, rejoice and I would like to add listen.  This coming week we have an Advent reconciliation service on Tuesday and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday.  Reconciliation is a time for us to be comforted.  We list our sins and God listens in a very real way.  On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, we focus on Mary, a woman who sung God’s song like no other.  This week and Advent season, with the new revision of the prayers for Mass, is a once in the lifetime (or maybe twice) opportunity for us to listen in to God’s invitation and God’s own catchy melody.  Let’s not hit snooze or turn the channel.  Let’s be there when the tree falls.  A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.  The Lord be with you… and with your spirit.  Blessed be God forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oil Lamps

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle A 2011

Today’s readings for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time begin to urge us to prepare for the end of the Church year and the great understated feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.  As we set our clocks back and check our smoke alarm batteries this Sunday, are we checking the oil in our lamps of faith? 
Generally speaking, Advent and Lent are the two liturgical seasons when we are told every week to repent and prepare; to reevaluate and renew.  In Advent we recall the patience of the Jewish people as they looked forward to a Messiah and God’s answer to their prayers by sending Jesus to us, through Mary’s yes.  In two weeks we will confess this in a new translation of the Creed that says: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.  God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made,consubstantial with the Father;  through him all things were made.  For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  This is central to our faith, so we have a season to prepare for it and a season to celebrate it.
In Lent, we commemorate the life of Jesus and his Passion, Death and Resurrection.  In the revised Creed we will again confess “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  Once again, we have a central reality of our faith that has a season to prepare and a season to celebrate the greatness of God’s love.
These four seasons, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, call us to remember past events though, while these next few weeks, and today’s Gospel about the ten virgins and their oil lamps, actually call us to repent and prepare for something that has not yet occurred!  Christ’s second coming,  what for us is similar to the Jewish people’s patient watch for the Messiah, this very real event is lost amidst Thanksgiving and Christmas excitement and the label of Ordinary Time.
Our new translation of the Creed emphasizes our need for anticipation and expectation.  We now say that “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”  This sounds as if we lost the resurrection or perhaps a statement fit for Halloween and looking for lost goblins and zombies trick or treating.  Our faith is clearer than that and in a few weeks we will say “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” 
I think the five foolish virgins would have professed our current translation.  “We look for the resurrection of the dead.”  They did not take individual responsibility for being prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.  They tried to take the wise virgins oil instead.  And then they went searching for their missing oil, they went searching for the resurrection, instead of being prepared to welcome it when it came to them. 
We are invited to say I.  I believe in one God;  I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ;  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life;  I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church;  And I look forward to the resurrection.  And along with this, you and I are invited to do much more than look.  You and I are invited to live this anticipation and expectation.  The reason the Creed only has one line about looking forward to the resurrection of the dead is that it has not happened.  You and I are responsible for writing the rest of that belief by our actions. 
Let’s live in such a manner so that when Jesus arrives and we are faced with the four final things of death, judgment, heaven, hell; the oil of our lamp of faith will be brightly burning and leading us to the life of the world to come.  And maybe one day, we will get an extra liturgical season to prepare for this great truth of our faith.  Blessed be God forever.  Amen.

Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Give to Caesar

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle A 2011

I have with me some ancient coins. They date to the 4th century, so they are after Jesus' time, but you can get a sense of what it meant for Jesus to take a coin and say "repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar." Not much has changed, as you can see. Even today Jesus would say repay to Lincoln, or Washington, or Jefferson, or Franklin what belongs to them and to God what belongs to God.  We still have the same unspoken question from today’s gospel as well: What belongs to God?
Does Jesus tell us in this passage what belongs to God?  No, he doesn't. We can imply a few things though.  First, Jesus bases his wisdom on an image.  Now, if I asked you whose image and likeness am I made in, what would you say?  God's, yes.  All the saints have echoed through the centuries that yes, that indeed, we totally belong to God.  But does everyone know this?  Does everyone believe it?  Do we?
The prophet Isaiah gives us this message from God today: "I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not" (Is 45:5).  God recognizes his image in us and his unique gift to us.  The question for us is how do we identify that which we are uniquely called to?
It comes down to freedom. Holy freedom. First, just as Jesus is not burdened by Roman coins, we need to detach from what may be making a claim on how or why we live.  Status, power, money, fame etc... These can mold us into something very different then the intended image. They can deface us.   Stillness, silence, prayer, faith, hope, love... These define us.
Freedom allows us to ask the question 'how much of a claim does God have on my life?' and we can answer it however we choose.
I think the reason we ought to choose God is simple. His return policy is very forgiving. If I fail pursuing money and power, then I’m poor and powerless. Status, power, fame will not come back to assist me if I fail in the pursuit of them. If I fail in faith, hope, and love God still sees his image in me and reaffirms it by absolving how I have defaced it.  Jesus bailed us out. 
Now, we have to answer the question: how much of a claim does God have on your life?
What has been your answer this past week?  Was God's image defaced or defined in you?
Blessed be God forever.
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6, Psalm 96, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b, Matthew 22:15-21

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

  Two weeks ago, I went up to the brownie sundae station after the Mass of the Holy Spirit.  I was waiting as one of the servers made sundaes to order.  As I tend to do, I was thinking of ways to improve on this experience, questioning the planning of the station and why there was only one server working because in my eyes this was going to be the most popular station.  Finally it came; it was going to be my turn.  I took a deep breath and prepared to say brownie sundae with vanilla ice cream, no sauce and M&Ms when someone came from the right of the line, caught the sundae lady’s eye and placed her order.  I and the three people behind me in line had just been cut.  I was dumbfounded and a bit peeved.  That’s not fair.
               Luckily, the person who cut us was a rather beloved individual on campus, so I was able to quickly allow an exception and get back to the task at hand; which was of course making it entirely obvious that I was next in line.
               Now, if I was that vexed over getting cut in the ice cream line, imagine how the laborers of the vineyard felt after working ten hours and getting paid the same as those who worked two.  It’s not fair.
               Our gospel story today is a parable.  A parable is a challenge to dialogue between faith and reason.  Though there are many angles to take on a parable, most basically they say something about God, and about us.  Today, this parable says God is generous.  What does it say about us?
               We are being challenged to reconcile our faith with our reason.  In the first readings God tells us “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8).  For me, that’s OK.  That’s something I can accept.  God has higher thoughts than I do.  But then St. Paul calls us out saying “Christ will be magnified in my body” and that we should conduct ourselves in a “way worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:20, 27).  Inspiring words, yes, but for me I can’t be happy with my faith forcing my reason to live a certain way.  I want more of collaboration.  (Yes, even our personal struggle with faith and reason needs conflict transformation.)  I cannot be at peace if my reason is not satisfied, is not reasonably challenged, so how can we make it work?  What are God’s ways?  How can I recognize that something is not fair, but still move beyond it?  I think that judgment and generosity are the keys.
               First, we are going to be judged.  For some reason though we have translated that to mean we are to judge and pronounce how God looks on situations and people.  Who doesn’t do this three times a day?  First impressions are so important in our day to day relationships and they occur more than the first time we meet someone.  Every situation and conversation is influenced by that initial mood reading.  For God, it is the final impression that is important.  If the landowner in our gospel today took the first impression of the laborers it would not have been very favorable.  They were standing idle.  They were not in use.  So, the landowner invites them to be of use.  He invites them to serve.  Standing idle is the equivalent of either never having the grace of the call or rejecting that grace.  Therefore, call, don’t judge.  Respond, don’t stand idle if you want to live in a manner worthy of Christ.
               Second, generosity is crucial.  In the second letter to the Corinthians 9:7, we are told “God loves a cheerful giver.”  That is because God is a cheerful giver.  At lunch that day, the reward at the sundae station was going to be the same whether I waited 30 seconds or 2 minutes.  What the dozens of people got before me or what the individual who cut the line got, or what those behind me in line got, did not matter, because the reward would be the same.  It would be what I wanted and no more, no less.  God’s generosity responds to us individually without concern for how much or how little we require.  God’s resources for reaching out to us cannot be exhausted.  In fact, in the parable, the landowner spends all day calling those who were idle to come and serve in the vineyard.  In God’s eternal eyes, we all arrive to serve at the same time.  Two months, two years, twenty years, it doesn’t matter.  We just need to be generous enough to respond.
The difficulty with both judgment and generosity is that faith rejoices in God’s generous way of judging us at our best and forgiving us at our worst, but reason, our cold, logical calculation, our search for what is fair, does not at first know how.  We study reason in philosophy and philosophy gives us three principles to aim toward in intellectual pursuit.  The Good.  The True.  The Beautiful.  I think our usual three principles of measure are the Good, the Bad and the Ugly though.  We need to transform these.
Consider the sundae station situation. I said to myself ‘this can’t be true, is she seriously cutting all of us?’  I said to myself, ‘this is bad, didn’t she notice us all waiting?  She’s acting badly.’  But, what did I say to myself after that initial shock?  I saw the innocence in her action and I recalled who she was and I was able to not dwell on getting cut in line; after all it was a sundae station.  My reward was not going to change because she stepped ahead of me.  (Now if she got the last brownie, that’s another story.  Remember God’s love is inexhaustible.  He’ll always have another brownie and it will be warm and fudgy.)
Beauty, which is probably our last consideration when it comes to what reason can recognize, can transform our perspective.  Beauty is a bridge to the divine.  The eyes of a cheerful giver see a true need in a person who is intrinsically good.  The eyes of a cheerful giver see the beauty of sacrificing so that the individual or individuals in need will be provided for and transformed to see the world in a similar way.
God is the cheerful giver.  God saw how beautiful we were, despite our sin, and sent Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, to be sacrificed for us and to invite us to the vineyard.  God did this to accompany us to a vision of the world founded in generosity.  Who are we claim a larger stake of God’s generosity?  Rather, let’s consider the following:  how can we be a cheerful giver?  Blessed be God forever.
Isaiah 55:6-9 , Psalm 145, Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a, Matthew 20:1-16a