hurting

Leave a comment
Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A short reflection on Matthew 14:13-21 , the Gospel lesson for Proper 13a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Jesus had just received word that John the Baptist was dead. Beheaded.

Their families were close. Their mothers had gotten together when they were pregnant with each of them. They were both servants of God, sent to preach the Good News.

John had baptized him.

And now he was gone. Murdered.

Jesus’ reaction is the same reaction that many of us might have when we hear such news: we retreat. We need some time alone to process it. To weep. To pray. To remember times gone by—better times.

But, the draw of Jesus was so magnetic, he couldn’t really get away. Someone had seen where he had gone, which tipped the crowd off. And the crowd followed.

Perhaps the crowd didn’t know what had happened. Maybe they hadn’t gotten the news yet. Maybe they didn’t know that the news had effected Jesus so deeply, or that such news would even phase such a wise teacher like Jesus.

Maybe they just didn’t care. All they could see were their own needs. All they could feel was their own pain.

Matthew doesn’t give us all the details here, but I suspect that the latter option is the right one.

I suspect that because when I’m in despair it’s hard for me to see the despair of another too. All I can do is see the hurt that’s inside of me.

But, that’s not how Jesus operates.

He could have sent them away. He could have told them all what had happened to John. He could have just cried and yelled and screamed. He could have gotten into the boat, conjured up a good storm and been done with them all.

But, he was moved with compassion. He always is. He was able to see beyond his own pain, and feel the pain they were bringing.

And so he healed them. And when he was done healing them, he fed them.

This passage shows so beautifully the humanity and divinity of Jesus. Mourning and grieving, and yet offering healing and life at the same time.

Like manna from heaven, day by day, he is always enough.

*sigh*

Leave a comment
Epistles / Lectionary / Paul / Year A

A reflection on Romans 8:26-39, the epistle lesson for Proper 12a according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

“Would someone like to offer the prayer?”

Before you can count 1–2–3, every eye in the place is either looking at me, or doing everything they can to not make eye-contact with the person who asked that question. No one told me that’s what would come with my clerical collar: that when-in-public, I’m the go-to prayer guy, no questions asked.

It’s not that I mind praying. I like praying. A lot. In fact, I even think I’m pretty decent with “public praying.” But, it always makes me uncomfortable because I wonder if I’m robbing others of the opportunity to pray, to learn to pray, and to come to love praying.

And, I still remember the time when I was in my first year of seminary, and was asked to pray for someone in the hospital bed in front of me. I choked. I bombed. It was so bad, that after my shaky “amen” the chaplain behind me picked up the slack and offered another prayer, because mine was so incoherent.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought.

And then there’s that.

Paul is speaking of something more than just “not knowing what to say.” He’s not speaking of #publicprayerfails. He’s not even speaking of that thing where you just can’t find the right words.

He’s talking about prayer in a much deeper sense. When it comes to communicating with an omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal God, we’re not communicating on anything I that even resembles the same level. We’re throwing out morse code, whereas God is capable of something even beyond highly integrated 60-GHz mm-wave circuits. (As if I even know what that means…)

We look at the world around us with such a small lens. We see only a few possibilities: war or no war; sick or cured; happy or sad. We see the world in black and white on a fuzzy CRT with bad reception. But, God sees from one horizon to the next, in crystal clear high-def. God sees infinite possibility.

So no, we don’t know how to pray as we ought.

But, that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Prayer. Really, it has nothing to do with the words. Nothing. I mean words are nice. Quaint.

But, real union with God comes not from words from from the sighs that are too deep for words.

The only thing that I can think of that it resembles is the wordless communication that happens between two people who know each other so well, that one person can send a signal with one raised eyebrow to the other person in the room…and the person knows exactly what it means.

And, with God, this is a gift of the Spirit.

So, yes, help people learn to offer the grace before meals by themselves. Teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Kyrie, and the General Thanksgiving. It will be good for them, and for their spirituality. But, also teach them to be with God, devoid of awkwardness and brimming with humility, casting off words and listening to each other’s sighs.

gray matter

Leave a comment
Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A short reflection on Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 , the Gospel lesson for Proper 11a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

The wheat and the weeds are so incredibly close together, that one cannot be uprooted, without uprooting the other.

I know this. Not because I have lots of evil neighbors. But, because the goodness in me, and the evil in me, is so close together. The person who I judge to have evil intent, also has good in them.

This parable is about how gray the world is. How what’s good, and what’s bad isn’t so easily separated.

“Bad” people don’t live “over there” anymore than the “good people” live “here.”

I really liked Disney’s new movie “Maleficent,” because of this exact same point. Maleficent is the wicked character in Sleeping Beauty, but the new movie makes her – and the other characters – more complex. She is capable of great evil. But, she is also capable of great love and compassion.

It’s also one of the things which made Breaking Bad so compelling. A “normal” lower-middle-class high school chemistry teacher with a relatively “normal” life has it in him to become a drug kingpin and murderer.

And, that same dichotomy is in us all.

busting the tiller

comment 1
Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A reflection on Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 , the Gospel lesson for Proper 10a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

For the longest time I’ve read the Parable of the Sower as descriptions of various groups of people. As if there are certain people who are, no doubt about it, just plain rocky soil. Then there are others who hang out with the thorns. The lucky ones are the healthy soil.

That would be convenient. Especially if you happened to be fertile dirt. It may even be convenient to be the impervious path, because it might just feel like a condition you had nothing to do with. As if being poor soil is kind of like having acne, or a receding hair line.

But, the uncomfortable reality is that I have good soil potential within me… And, it’s only a stone’s throw from some seriously rocky ground.

Not far from the thorns and weeds either.

They are all within me. And depending on the day, or the moment, or the circumstance, I end up presenting one or the other.

Years ago now my wife and I tried starting a garden next to our house. There was good soil – we lived right by the bank of a creek after all. But, there were also a lot of large rocks. It was amazing how many we pulled out of that little patch. We tried tilling it up, and it was incredibly tough.

We even broke the tiller in the process. Broke a blade right off.

Eventually, after a half-baked effort, we gave up.

I could apply that story as a metaphor to many, many moments in my life. Sometimes I come up all rocks. Sometimes I break things.

Sometimes, to heck with it, I just give up.

Jesus is asking us here to bring our best dirt, so that his Way can take root deep within us. This isn’t something that happens by chance, or because we’re fortunate to have good genes. It’s something we put effort into.

We’re the ones charged with tilling our soil so that the Life which Jesus sows may grow in us, and produce a bounty.

Even if we bust the tiller in the process, there’s no giving up.

complicating easy

Leave a comment
Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A reflection on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, the Gospel lesson for Proper 9a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I have to say, that this passage makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong; it’s beautiful. If I let it sink into my bones, I could find myself weeping if I wasn’t careful.

Because I feel so weary sometimes. I feel myself give under the weight of the burden I (choose to) carry around. I buckle beneath it.

Sometimes all I want is just a little rest. A burden that is perhaps just a little bit lighter.

But, it’s the easy part of this passage that gets me.

Yes, the way of Jesus is wonderful. But, easy? I’ve been at trying to live the way of Jesus for the better part of 40 years, and I can say many things about it.

Easy isn’t one of them.

Or…I wonder…

Might it be that what’s difficult about it is my own convoluted way of following Jesus? The way where I try and have a foot in both worlds? Where I try and have it both ways?

I follow Jesus where convenient, but follow my own desires when moved. I become attached to my things, and fail to give what I should to those in need. I set aside a few moments for prayer and study, but I find plenty of time to binge-watch the latest offering from Netflix. I give Jesus some of myself, but jealously guard the rest of me.

Maybe it’s that dance, back and forth, straddling the things of God and my own narcissism, that’s what’s so damn hard.

Perhaps is I just gave it up, and just loved God with everything I have, and loved my neighbor as myself…

Perhaps that would be such a lighter life…

Maybe it’s not the passage that makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s just me.

sit up straighter

Leave a comment
Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A reflection on Matthew 10:40-42, the Gospel lesson for Proper 8a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Doesn’t that make you sit up a little straighter? When you are welcomed into someone else’s presence, they are also welcoming Christ.

One could say that this is an extension of us bearing the Image of God. One could also say that this is an extension of our priesthood (of all believers), wherein we are given the gift of representing Christ to the world.

And one could say that because in Pauline Theology that we are in Christ, and in Johannine Theology that Christ abides in us, our mystical union with Christ puts his Life coursing through our veins. So where we are, so is Christ.

So, please do sit up a little straighter!

But, this also cuts in the other direction. With these words from Matthew 10 Jesus is speaking to us…but he is also speaking to those who are sent to us. When we welcome them, we welcome Christ.

In Matthew 25 we often get caught up in the moments when Jesus is hungry, and thirsty, and naked – and we feed, offer drink, and clothe him. But, there is also:

When I was a stranger you welcomed me.

Matthew 25:35

Hospitality is a basic Christian practice. We welcome others into our homes, around our tables, and into our lives. It’s an extension of loving our neighbor. And, because by welcoming them we are also welcoming God in Christ, it is also an extension of loving God with our hearts, souls, and lives.

It’s one of those things that we ought to go out of our way to do.

And not just with the strangers who show up on our door. It’s sometimes easier to extend hospitality to someone we’ve never met before, or someone we just barely know…but at the same time forget those who are always around us.

I am guilty of this. I will overextend myself meeting the needs of others, at any time of the night or day…and then neglect to extend myself to my wife or children. I’ll come home so zapped, that I’ve left nothing to give to them.

This is not good, for they bear the Divine Image too. Taking their love and attention for granted is just as much an affront to hospitality as slamming the front door on a complete stranger.

Our task is to consciously attend to the Christ in everyone. Christ in the stranger. Christ in the enemy. Christ in the friend. Christ in the spouse. Christ in our sibling. Christ in the politician who makes our blood boil. Christ in the one who believes differently than I do.

Christ in everyone.

For when we can regard everyone as Christ…then, just maybe…they will see the Christ who is in us. And, who makes us sit up a little straighter.

every hair

comments 3
Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Religion / Year A

A reflection on Matthew 10:24–39, the Gospel lesson for Proper 7a according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Fear really is the antithesis of faith.

And yet, fear hangs on us like humidity on an summer night. It coats us front and back, and attracts all kind of grime, so that even when it’s dries it’s still sticky.

In adulthood we may not be living in fear of what bumps in the night, what’s under the bed, or in the closet… But how many of us are scared to death of people finding out what our life is really like? How much energy do we expend trying to keep a failing marriage, crumbling finances, problems with the children, our health issues, etc. locked up in an emotional vault so that no one will ever know our struggles? How much focus do we expend on trying to project to others that we’re competant, talented, and successful so that no one will ever know our inner thoughts of critique and failure?

It’s the fear that we’ll be “found out.” Found out that we’re not as put together, smart, or care-free as we’d like to project to the world. Found out that our lives have problems, that we have problems, and that sometimes those struggles consume our thoughts through the day and keep us up at night.

Our ancestors feared famine, war, the rise of an evil leader. They feared for their lives, and the lives of their children, day in and day out.

I’m not interested in minimizing our modern fears and feelings…because I think at their core they are the same thing. The fear of being “found out” is the fear of death. It’s the fear of our own mortality, and the reminder that we aren’t even close to invincible.

We’re held together by tendons and synapses, and the lives we live are held together by so much less.

I’m a mess, and if it weren’t for a little spit and scotch tape I’d crumble onto the floor. And so would you. And, I can either let that eat away at me from the core of my being… I can try and numb it with a bottle of wine or a bottle of pills… Or, I can let it go.

And, that’s what Jesus offers us.

So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known…even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid.

Do not fear the teacher. Or the master. Or the boss. Or the next-door neighbor. Your supremely successful high school classmate who has his own jet. The person who critiques your work…your art…your sermon.

Do not fear them. There is nothing to be afraid of anyway, because God has counted your every hair, your every wrinkle, your every cell. And you are loved.

It sounds easier than it is. We’re wired to fear death from our very genes. And, our culture has wired us to be “successful,” and has very helpfully defined what that success actually looks like. (Thanks, culture.)

One of St. Benedict’s central spiritual truths is to consciously recall our mortality every day. Every day we’re to remind ourselves that one day, perhaps even today, we’re going to die. There’s wisdom there. Because, for Christians death is nothing to fear. It’s not an end, but a new beginning. And, so who cares if we got a “C” in European History, or the big client fired our firm, or our front hall closet could be a SuperFund site, or if our marriage has fallen apart, or if we’re considering filing for bankrupsy, or if we can’t get past a second interview, or if we’re found out.

It’s ok. For even those who lose their whole lives will be found, along with their every hair.

So, do not be afraid.

A Trinity Sunday reflection

Leave a comment
Theology

Let us create humankind in our image…

We are created in God’s image. And, the most important word there might just be “we.”

There are elements of the Divine Image that we only bear when we are together, because God is a Triune Fellowship.

Let us create humankind in our image…

NOT “Let ME create humankind in MY image.”

God IS a community—what we call the Trinity—and so when we come together as a community of love we gain more and more the potential to reflect the the Image of God.

Which is why it’s so important for us, as Christians, to model great community. Our fellowship is an opportunity to be God’s Image for the world. Which means it’s more than even just a mere evangelical opportunity. It’s not about getting more followers, or members. It’s about giving the world a glimpse into what God looks like.

And, all of this, of course, is about our priestly role—the priesthood of all believers. Christian community and fellowship is all about bringing God to the peoples of the world. It’s a glimmer of light amidst the darkness.

We all know of the great examples of when Christian communities succeed. The Amish forgiving the man, and the family of the man, who slew their children in the schoolhouse. Pope Francis washing the feet of young juvenile offenders. The Martyrs of Memphis staying in the city of Memphis to minister to the sick and dying, even though they were practically assuring their own death.

We also know of the examples of when Christian community fails so horribly.

Which is why toxic Christian community is so damaging. When we aren’t a place where love is known and practiced… when we aren’t a place where forgiveness is freely given…when we aren’t a place that’s completely free of judgement and condescension—we fail at our most basic task.

This isn’t to say that we can’t be places where healthy conflict can be practiced. We don’t have to nice each other to death. But, when a conflict arises, we work out that conflict with grace.

And, it also not to say that we have to be perfect churches brimming with perfect people. We aren’t. And we won’t be. The reflection of God that we’re capable of isn’t a flawless reflection. We are going to hurt each other, and we’re going to be hurt. But, this isn’t always a horrible thing, for those moments give us a chance to practice forgiveness. Those moments offer an opportunity to show the world what it looks like for people who were once enemies to embrace and move on in love.

The Trinity isn’t just a doctrine. It’s a way of living and a way of being. And, it’s something to emulate. For when we do, we show the world what God is like.