Treasure

St. Lawrence, whose feast day is coming up, fits nicely with Jesus’ teaching this Sunday on the Kingdom of God as a treasure. Lawrence (?225-258) served his particular Christian faith community by caring for those who were poor; he distributed the goods of the community to people according to their need. He lived in Rome during a time Roman officials, specifically Emperor Valerian, were targeting Christians for persecution. Lawrence’s friend, Sixtus, had recently been condemned to death and was executed; the evidence suggests Sixtus was beheaded.

In addition to the officials wanting Christians dead, they also wanted any treasures they possessed. Therefore, when officials came to arrest church members and learned that Lawrence handled the community’s finances, they singled him out for attention. As the story is told, the officials told Lawrence they would be back tomorrow and demanded that he produce for them the treasures of the Church. Lawrence gave them his word he would do so. When the officials returned the next day, Lawrence said to them “I have kept my world. Here are the treasures of the church.” He then opened the doors to the community’s gathering space for the officials to see a great number of poor, leprous, lame, and blind people as well as widows and orphans. “These are the treasures of the Church.” said Lawrence. Needless to say the officials were not amused. They led Lawrence away to be executed.

Those who are poor will always recognize Jesus as their treasure, they will always gather round him as church, and they will always experience persecution. And what of we who are not poor? Who or what do we recognize as our treasure? Are we church? Will we ever experience even pushback for the faith we express?  

Prayer: Dear God, help us to treasure the least among us.

Question: What is the one treasure I seek and is it really worth my life?

July 27, 2014  Gospel Matthew 13:44-52  Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Weeds and Wheat

The story is told of a man driving a winding country road. He is almost run off it by a woman who rounds a curve too wide. As she gets back onto her side she yells at him, “Pig!” He promptly responds, “Idiot!” only to round the bend and crash into a pig. We don’t always know the circumstances of any person’s life or the benefit they have. We do know, from Jesus’ parable on weeds and wheat, that whatever or whoever we think are weeds it’s best not to respond by harming them but rather by healing them.  

Some Christians, certain they are wheat and others are weeds, sometimes respond to harm, or its believed existence, by being themselves harmful. What precipitates 57,000 children, on their own, crossing the U.S. border from the south? Could it be the 1994 NAFTA trade agreement? It destroyed Mexican and Central American economies and gutted unions so as to provide capitalist drug dealers legal cover to run corporate sweatshops and kill any workers (i.e. mothers and fathers) who oppose them? NAFTA’s 20 year reign of terror has yet to be brought into a conversation more and more dominated by militant Christians who are so sure of the harm done by children crossing a border. While the children are like the woman in the opening story experiencing danger and warning that it is ahead, for those willing to listen, Christians intent upon preserving the U.S. Empire, are on a collision course with its practices.

The basic problem with weeds is that they don’t know how to get along. They’re aggressive. They dominate nutrients and control conditions for their own benefit so that survival is difficult for other, fruitful life. It’s become an apt description of U.S. Empire and it needs the healing attention of disciples nurtured in Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, help us relinquish any characteristics of a weed and be fruitful instead.

Question: What are the weeds I can transform?

July 20, 2014 Gospel Matthew 13:24-30 Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nature

Jesus’ deep connection with nature is apparent in his parables. That’s the case this Sunday with his parable about the sower, the seeds, and the ground on which the seeds fall. The wise people listening knew Jesus was speaking truths about nature as well as truths about humanity. 

People who are wise are like nature. For instance, they take their time. They care enough to take the time to see, to hear, and to understand so as to nourish others - in the same way seeds and soil and seasons take their time to nourish life. When we’re in the presence of people and nature who take their time we feel at peace. Perhaps wise people are like nature because they like nature. They like planting seeds and watching in awe as the miracle of life emerges. They like listening to birds as they sing to each other so that the concerns of those who are most fragile in the world resonate within them. They like participating in the gentle changing of the seasons and thus come to understand the dyings and risings that happen to us in this life. There seems to be a shared nature between the two. And what is to be made of people who are not at peace and nature that seems to be more and more violent? Do they too share a nature? 

It seems all creation is groaning as something is being born in this world. A longing for peace is emerging; it’s beautiful, gentle and in our nature as human beings as it was in Jesus’ nature. People who have let anxiety, frustration, and anger overtake their own peaceful nature seem to be resisting the whole world’s peaceful nature. How can we invite them to live from their deeper nature? 

Prayer: Dear Creator, such beauty surrounds us; thank you.

Question: What can I do to live in peace with my own nature and with nature itself?

July 13, 2014 Gospel Matthew 13:1-23 Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Dependence

Often hidden from we who are clever and learned is the truth that we live in dependence. Being clever, for example about accumulating money, or being learned, for example in book knowledge, can obscure that truth. Wealth and knowledge tempt us toward self-reliance, even toward using our wealth and knowledge as weapons against other people. Little ones know we need each other. Our lives depend upon the resources and information we share. Withholding such things is cruel.

That cruelty by the clever and learned against little ones is very apparent in Detroit these days. Wealthy unelected officials overrode constitutional law to rob public employees of pension and health benefits. The officials claimed the workers benefits were impoverishing the city and filed for bankruptcy. In truth, the money the workers put in is being systematically stolen. In part, it was such money, trillions of dollars’ worth from these worker’s funds and others across the U.S., which was used in the Wall Street bail out. As the city’s little ones are now suffering under austerity measures the city’s wealthy and learned officials, including bank owners holding the bankruptcy note, are reporting staggering profits. Last week, these same officials shut off water to thousands of residents. Such is the burden placed on little ones by those who are clever and learned.

Looking up to others can be helpful, especially when we’re young, so long as we learn character traits such as service and kindness. Sometimes looking up to others devolves into valuing superficialities such as wealth and scheming. There comes a time when we need to look across; to those who share lives lived in dependence. It is the easy yoke and light burden Jesus knew who was also a little one yoked to other little ones.

Prayer: Dear God, keep us humble, open to child-like vulnerability.

Question: Who are the little ones burdened by suffering to whom I can reach out?  

July 6, 2014 Gospel Matthew 11:25-30 Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 4th weekend)

Church

People’s Movements usually start in someone’s house, around the kitchen table and all its free flowing conversations. Little by little such movements spread, until those imprisoned by empire - its bureaucracies, boardrooms, and bunkers - do what they can to crush them. It’s what those imprisoned by empire did to Jesus, Peter and Paul, union families at Ludlow, Dr. King, Chico Mendez, and the list goes on.

House is the original meaning of church. To believe Jesus started a church means Jesus started a house, a People’s House. It flows freely from the communion, love, and healing power we share in Christ. It’s a House to which all are invited and from which all are sent out. We’re sent out in communion to transform empire’s divisions - for wealth and supremacy. We’re sent out in love to transform empire’s belief that suffering is deserved – for those who are poor and hungry. We’re sent out with healing power to transform empire’s blood lust – for executions and wars. And the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against us. Those imprisoned by that which is deadening may do us harm but they shall not ultimately prevail against the People’s House and our transformation of the world.

In Christ, church is no longer a building - an enlarged Ark or Tabernacle – and God is no longer imprisoned within it whose Presence is accessed through a priestly class in possession of its keys. In Christ, church is the people, commoners like Peter, who receive and share God’s Presence freely throughout the world.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to live as one family, members of one household.  

Question: What are some old ideas of church or of God that keep me imprisoned?

June 29, 2014 Gospel Matthew 16:13-19  Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Bread of Life

Jesus is the Bread of Life, a source of nourishment shared for all, and calls disciples to be the same. Helping to nourish people, specifically ensuring that people have physical as well as spiritual nourishment, is a basic ingredient of discipleship in Christ. As author Monika Hellwig wrote, disciples learned that to be true to Jesus they “should touch the lives of the hungry of the world with authentic and generous compassion, drawing on the bread of life that is Jesus, to become themselves bread of life for the needy.”

Touching other people’s lives with authentic and generous compassion is always shown to be more true of those who are poor or in need than those who are wealthy. While wealthy people are acquiring money and using people to get it, people of average and lower economic status are living lives of basic interdependence. We understand each other’s needs and share what we have with each other. A poor and interconnected way of life expressive of discipleship in Christ is not valued by wealthy people however, who exert a negative influence upon the faith. Their influence explains the ridicule and quick death inflicted upon Pope Francis’ recent exhortation in which he said such things as: the Joy of the Gospel “means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty … as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter.” (#188) Also, “(L)oving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person …  Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor.” (#199) 

The truth of Jesus as the Bread of Live is that we are all one Body, nourished together. Eucharist is not an extraordinary ritual to commemorate a past event but rather a daily communion in which we are nourished by a generous God so as to be ourselves nourishment for others.   

Prayer: God of all Goodness, thank you for the nourishment we are given every day.

Question: How do I experience myself as living Jesus’ witness as the bread of life?

June 22, 2014  Gospel John 6:51-58 Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ

Saved and Condemned

God really is not a father that lives in the sky who grants salvation to those people who believe in him and condemns those who don’t. That’s just a projection onto God of an earthly father stereotype that leans heavily on the qualities of a judge. Even though the image of a just God judging between the saved and the condemned doesn’t match Jesus’ way of relating, it persists as an image of God promoted by some Christians. Christians are influenced, if not trained, to believe that some people deserve to be condemned and suffer for their wrongdoing in order for justice to be done.

The theology explains the sad state of affairs in which Christians are among the most ardent supporters of the U.S. criminal justice system and its executing people on death row. It was more than sad, gruesome in fact, to hear people who self-identify as Christian extol the two most recent death penalty executions. One condemned man in Ohio writhed in pain and suffered for 26 minutes before eventually dying. The premeditated murder of the other man by the state of Oklahoma took a full 43 minutes of the man suffering before he finally died. These are our brothers in Christ. To champion the suffering of these men as a deserved follow up to the suffering they caused is to be one of their followers not one of Jesus’. Jesus was condemned by and suffered under the very same judges executing the very same criminal justice system as was executed against these two men.  

To worship a God who judges in favor of the saved and condemns the guilty is to have made an idol of Jesus’ killers.     

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to love as you love.

Question: How do I experience God?

June 15, 2014  Gospel John 3:16-18    Feast of the Holy Trinity

Together

Pentecost highlights Jesus’ impact on people’s sense of public place. Hierarchs - Roman officials and soldiers, high priests and Pharisees – forcibly controlled the place commoners were allowed to occupy in public life, if any. Hierarchs thus limited people’s ability to effect change. At Pentecost people simply occupied public space, together, and thus began changing public life.    

Hierarchs, no matter their era or field, are inclined to do everything they can to control people’s place in public life. They know change happens when people come together. Thus, the evolving Occupy Movement - Pentecostal because it successfully opened up public space: for dialogue, for communion, for reimaging public life - was targeted for destruction. Hierarchs, through their police forces, attacked it and thought they shut it down but in truth many of the occupiers, acting as tongues of fire, have spread out in mission. They’re active in housing justice and disaster relief. They’re creating “Rolling Jubilee” campaigns to highlight and eliminate exorbitant interest rates not only in tuition but also in medical bills. Occupiers are forming political and legal alliances to restore the integrity of personhood for human beings and end it for corporations and are inviting and receiving help from the “1%” to do so. The examples go on. Pentecostal movements have always been creative movements.

We’re all responsible for occupying and creating public life. We bring different gifts to that endeavor but we are one human family needing to renew the face of the earth, together.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, help us to all come together as one human family.  

Question: How can I re-create public life?  

June 8, 2014  Gospel John 20:19-23  Pentecost

Passing On

Jesus was always passing on to others who he was and what he knew. He was always passing on his welcoming and creative Presence so that people felt such Presence within them. He was always passing on what he knew of Divinity’s way of communion, love, and healing so that people shared such a way with others.

Jesus’ passing on is always a testimony to life, a witness to rebirth. Jesus’ passing on, as the passing on of any loved one, isn’t about an accentuation of distance but rather a realization of transformed intimacy. It’s not about the commemoration of an historical existence or event but rather a renewed commitment to a shared mission. The intimacy felt and the mission enacted endure through the sorrow we feel because we accept that our loved one is passing on. We too are passing on; always giving who we are and what we know to others.

“It is possible and imperative that we learn a brave and startling truth and when we come to it … We must confess that we are the possible, we are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world.” Maya Angelou

Prayer: Ascending Spirit, we live in your Presence and share your wisdom.

Question: What am I passing on?

June 1, 2014  Gospel Matthew 28:16-20   Ascension / Seventh Sunday of Easter

Advocate

The God presented for worship in the Old Testament simply does not match Jesus’ revelation of Divinity in the Gospel. One assurance of this fortunate evolution is the difference between a Judge and an Advocate.

The Old Testament image of God is constructed by those in control. Even if it is claimed the Hebrew people were slaves of the Egyptians it is still the warrior priest Moses and eventually Joshua and David and the like who imagine this God. And how do they imagine this God? They imagine their God as slaughtering Egyptian children in the tenth plague and as ordering the conquest of foreigners whose land they covet and as waging war upon war in Yahweh’s name and so forth and so on. God is consistently imagined as a Judge executing a sentence of death. Jesus’ revelation of God as an Advocate, an abiding Spirit, is a paradigm shift in humanity’s experience of Divinity. God relates not as a commander but as a commoner. God’s essence is not that of a wrathful Judge but of a loving Advocate. God acts not to destroy but to heal.   

It is because people who call themselves Christian worship an image of God from the past that Jesus’ abiding Spirit for the future is hindered from transforming the world.

Prayer: Dear God, move us from remembering the past to creating the future. 

Question: Do I have an image of God or am I a human being in whom the Holy Spirit abides?

May 25, 2014  Gospel John 14:15-21 Sixth Sunday of Easter