NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST – June 24, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 49:1-6
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 13:22-26
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 1:57-66, 80

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have been thinking about John the Baptist lately, not only because we celebrate the feast of his birth, circumcision, and naming, but also because I wonder how he would be heard in these times.  How successful would he be today?  There is reason to think his preaching would create the same division that it did as he prepared the way for Jesus’ coming.  Some, especially the poor and the oppressed, would flock to hear him and find comfort.  The elite and powerful would want him silenced in the same way that they decry the prophetic voices today.

John was not a very attractive character.  He fasted much of the time and feasted on grasshoppers and wild honey.  His clothing did not come from fashionable boutiques.  He wore camel skin with a leather belt around his waist.  Not much about him would encourage imitation.  But then, that was not what he was about.  He wanted people to hear his message.  He knew that from the womb, God had appointed him to be a sharp-edged sword.  He knew that through him, God’s glory would be revealed.

What was it about John, then, that made the difference, that made people want to listen to the “man sent by God?”  Something about him touched people and made them hang on his every word – some people, that is.  His message was confrontational.  Still, people listened in rapt attention.  Would that happen today?  Would crowds come in droves and seek his Baptism of repentance?  He is out of sequence today.  We have Jesus’ Baptism.  Perhaps John’s message today would be the challenge to the baptized to live their Baptisms.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?

We could use another John the Baptist today.  Jesus entered the world scene near the end of John’s preaching ministry.  Because of the power of his preaching, some wondered if he were the Messiah, the Christ. John protested to the contrary.  This time around John could remind people about Jesus Christ and what Christ brings to the world from God.  People would still have to change their lives.  His call would be that the People of God should live their Baptismal Priesthood, should live the Eucharist they celebrate, and should be for the poor, bread broken and cup poured out.  

Is not that what we have been hearing from Pope Francis since he became the Bishop of Rome?  And as was the case with John, many are encouraged by what they see and hear coming from Francis.  But it is also true that some curse him as the worst thing that has happened to the Church since the Second Vatican Council.

It is difficult to see much about these days and what is happening in parts of the Church and society in general that exhibits the Kingdom Christ proclaimed.  Jesus said that all people are God’s beloved and meant to be members of one family.  Love was to be the rule of life.  By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another…Love one another.  Do good to those who hate you.  We are all in this together, if we hear Christ clearly.  

John might tell us that some are living far from that mark.  For some of us it is discouraging to hear no sense of responsibility for the poor or for the aliens.  You have heard the message.  The poor have only themselves to blame for their situation.  The aliens brought here as infants and knowing no other country, should be deported.  The wealthy should not have to give from their abundance so that the poor might have the essentials necessary to live life with dignity.  So, the chasm between the wealthy 1% and the rest of society increases.  Diseases ravage the poor.  Powerful pharmaceutical companies refuse to send to Africa medications able to cure sleeping sickness because there is no profit for them in doing that.  

Some see poverty as God’s judgment on people, just as they see wealth as a sign of God’s favor.  Not much different from the Baptist’s times.  Is it really meant to be a matter of survival of the fittest?  Should Ayn Rand’s Objectivism be accepted as today’s philosophy?  It would seem so.  Surely John the Baptist would have something contrary to say about this.

We need another Baptist to wake us up.  Each day we hear stories more terrible than those heard the day before.  Each day there are predictions of coming days more dire than those already experienced.  In the Middle East wars rage on and on.  Cities are bombed and gassed, killing the innocent, many of them children.

In our own land, this year there have been over twenty shootings in high schools.  Eloquent young people, survivors of the Florida shooting, marched against the gun violence.  Some were ridiculed because they spoke to the heart of the matter and demanded changes that the powerful do not want considered.  I write this two days after the mass killings in the Texas high school.  There may well have been others by the time you read this.

How do we cope with stories of parents killing their children?  Two mothers with their children in the car, drove the vehicle off a cliff and killed them all.  Two parents were arrested for beating and starving their children.

Then there are the stories of sexual harassment and abuse.  Women are finding their voices and marching.  They must be heard.  Young victims of sexual trafficking are being rescued.  Survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and others are being heard and their abusers curtailed.

Another John the Baptist would help.  His witness and message might reawaken lost values in society and in us.  We might be re-convinced that we are all meant to live in community as Children of God.  

It occurs to me that John the Baptist might have returned and we didn’t recognize him.  Think of the impact of Mahatma Gandhi.  Years have gone by since his time.  Many people today may not have heard of him, but in his day he made many people rethink their complicity in the exploitation of others.  He was not a Christian, although he said that he admired Christ.  He also said that he didn’t think that much of Christ’s followers.  He held many Christians accountable for the injustices he exposed.  Committed to non-violence, he offended the powerful in his land who saw him as a threat and one who could incite riots.  Like the Baptist before him, Gandhi was murdered, witnessing to the cause he preached.  That shedding of blood proved his sincerity.

Remember Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The Spirit, in a blazing Pentecost, came upon him and transformed him from a library priest to a shepherding bishop who stood in the midst of his people and dared the military powers to respect them and let them be free of the oppression that enslaved them.  It is a sad fact that the Church tried to silence him and accused him of being a Marxist.  People of questionable repute had been rushed to canonization while the Church had ignored the Martyr Oscar Romero –, not by the poor of San Salvador who acclaim him as a saint.  The powerful had him shot to death while he celebrated Eucharist in a hospital chapel.  His spilled blood didn’t silence his voice.  Some still hear his voice loudly at noon each day clearly calling for the freedom of the people he shepherded.  Pope Francis has proclaimed him Blessed because he is a martyr.  At last.

As we celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist, we should wonder if he hasn’t returned to us over and over again in several ages and guises.  Each time the results have been the same.  The most abject hear the voice and respond to the witness and are encouraged.  Hope is sparked in their hearts.  When the voice of those calling for reform get too loud and their witness too powerful, when their dreams seem to align with Christ’s heralding of the promised Messianic Age, they have to die the way the first Baptist did.  Think of the amazing oration Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the night before he died.  Like Moses, he said, he had been to the mountaintop and had looked across the chasm into the promised land of racial equality.  He saw a kingdom of justice, equality, and peace.

Pray that the Lord will send out the Spirit on the Church and inspire her to be that herald in this present desert time.  Would the clarion be heard more brilliantly if we were more obviously a servant church, if there were less evidence of elitism, clericalism and hierarchical power among us?  Pope Francis clearly thinks so.  If we dare to take his message and example to heart, the Spirit might re-inspire those glory days that followed the Second Vatican Council, when the Church, the People of God, proclaimed that all are welcome here, that Christ’s blood was shed for all, and the baptized were invited to live and practice their Baptismal Priesthood.  Then John the Baptist’s voice would be heard again.

While some might think that John had his day just as did Elijah before him, and prefer not to return the Church to a former age, the rest of us pray that the Spirit that inspired the Baptist will continue to inspire Pope Francis and us and awaken us to our responsibility.  The Church, after all, is the Body of Christ.  The faith resides in the people of God.  So, it just might be our time and our responsibility.  We just might choose to live in the freedom of the Children of God and give ourselves to the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom that is coming until all have heard and love is rekindled.  It could happen if we believe.  Do you agree?

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

 

    

Advertisements

ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – June 17, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 17:22-24
A reading from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 5:6-10
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 4:26-34

Dear Reader,

It is only natural that when we hear similes regarding the reign of God, or the Kingdom of God, we translate them into terms of our human experiences.  We have no other frame of reference.  Imagine God Reigning, or God’s kingdom.  Naturally, we think in terms of earthly monarchs and see kings or queens sitting on the royal throne and commanding whatever kings or queens command.  Why wouldn’t we see the Father and the Risen Son in royal splendor, with golden crowns and purple robes, and holding the scepter of authority?  You have seen glorious icons to substantiate that.  Is it any wonder that some are eager to cast those in authority in the church in similar light?  Alas.

In these times it is so important for us to hear that our God is a God who serves.  Jesus, the Risen Lord, urges us to love one another the way that I have loved you.  Pope Francis continually pleads for us to change our hearts.  The shepherds must shepherd in the midst of the sheep.  The focus of the church is to recognize Christ in the poorest of the poor.  We cannot be about wealth and power.  And we must recognize our responsibility and take care of the planet.  Some welcome Francis’s words and are inspired by them.  Others curse.

Recently, I was in conversation with a friend who told me about the difficulties she is having to remain a believer, not only in the church of which she has been a part since her infant Baptism, but also in God and the Lord Jesus.  Very little is going right in her life.  An abusive husband abandoned her.  She lost the job she had held for over a decade and that had paid well.  Add to the mix a period of poor health that resulted in a struggle with depression.  Where is God in all of this?  If God is omnipotent, she asked, why doesn’t God do something about my situation and come to my rescue?

She feels distanced by the church that previously had been the source of comfort and support in her faith struggles.  She is bothered by not feeling equal to her male counterparts and is put off by the increasing clericalism in the church.  The scandals disclosed in recent years have shaken her, but so too has the silence about so many social evils of this age.  She asked, “Where is the church of Vatican Council II?  Pope John XXIII opened the windows to let in fresh air.  Now there seem to be forces that want to shut those windows and regress to a pre-Council church.  No wonder Pope Francis struggles to be heard.  Where is the Holy Spirit now?”

I listened and empathized.  I told her that I did not have easy answers to her questions.  I told her that I believe that in spite of all the contrary signs, God continues to work in her life and to embrace her with love.  God continues to work in the world to bring about the salvation of all and to establish what is termed the kingdom of God.

Some of the most hopeful prophetic utterances in Hebrew Scripture were voiced in dire times for Israel, especially during the Babylonian Captivity.  The enslaved Israelites thought God had abandoned them because of their infidelities.  Ezekiel tells us in today’s first reading that God promises to plant on a high and lofty mountain, a tender shoot from the cedar tree that will become a refuge for birds of every kind.  And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord, bring low the high trees, lift high the lowly tree…and make the withered tree bloom.  As I, the Lord, have spoken, so will I do.

Their present situation may look dark and seem hopeless, but God will oust oppressors and will restore Israel.  There will be wonders again that manifest God’s presence in the midst of the Chosen People.  These may seem like dark days in the church, but the Spirit of the Council will prevail and God will bring the church into the new age of grace.  For some of us, Pope Francis is the sign that it will happen.

Paul challenges us in today’s reading from the second Letter to the Corinthians.  Many of the Corinthians did not admire Paul.  They were embarrassed by his diminutive stature and unimpressed by his weak voice and his many woes that they took to be signs that God did not favor him.  Paul proclaimed that God seized him in that amazing encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.  The Spirit sent him to proclaim Christ, crucified and raised.  Paul challenges the Corinthians and us to live the faith that he taught and to walk in that faith until we come before the judgment seat of Christ.

We must listen to Paul and take his words to heart.  We live in the midst of a culture that is obsessed with temporal things.  What matters most are youth and beauty, wealth and power.  There are not a few who see God’s favor resting on the wealthy, the young and the beautiful – the entitled ones in society.  The judgment of the opposite is seen to be evidenced by the plight of the poor, the aged, and the disabled.  Such states are God’s punishments for their sins, or the sins of their ancestors.

Hear Paul remind us that God does not judge according to human standards.  What is the scandal of the cross to some, in the reality of faith, proclaims that God is present to the vulnerable, the weak, the suffering, and lifts them up to new life, just as he raises the dead to the fullness of life in Christ.  Therefore, we aspire to please (the Lord)…For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what s/he did in the body, whether good or evil.

Jesus teaches with parables.  Deceptively simple in language and construction, parables open the doors to the mysterious ways of God.  Because their language is ordinary and the images recognizable, they reveal God’s working in the here and now.  

It is also true that many of the parables are problematic and cannot be easily resolved.  Perhaps it is grappling with those problematic elements that will lead us deeper into the realm of Mystery and the wondrous God who seeks and saves us – even in the dark times.

Farmers might smile as they hear the first parable in today’s gospel.  They can appreciate the wonder that happens following he sowing of the seed up to the day of harvest.  The sower has no control over the grain’s development.  Time must pass before it is ripe and ready for reaping.  That is the way faith works, too.  Some may feel helpless as they watch events in the church and the world and may blame themselves for not being effective witnesses to the coming reign of God.  But the seeds of faith sown in every age take root in people’s lives and mature eventually to full stature.  We have to live in faith and trust that the promise will be fulfilled.

The second parable is one long and complicated sentence and for the original audience very problematic.  Most of us do not know that much about the mustard plant.  We know about mustard, but not much about the plant that produces it.  Those first ones listening to Jesus knew that the mustard plant is a weed that invades fields and wrecks havoc with crops that are planted there.  It is not the smallest of seeds.  It does not grow to become the largest of shrubs.  But it is true that the birds can rest on its branches in its shade.

Might Jesus intend to teach in this parable about the infant faith community we call the church.  The first disciples were few in number and were considered by many to be heretics.  Saul set out on the road to Damascus to round up those scandalous members of a new sect so that he could put them in prison and even kill them.  Then Paul met Christ.  The first disciples preached Christ.  The community flourished and rapidly grew in numbers, becoming a threat to the establishment.  But seekers found refuge and meaning among the Christians and a reason to go on.  At least that is one way of hearing this parable about the mustard seed.

So we go back to the near despair that occasioned these reflections.  As we sit under these proclamations and let the words wash over us, we have the opportunity to be reminded that ultimately God is in charge.  The Spirit has empowered us to believe.  Baptism has identified us with Christ.  As such, we are the beloveds of God as Jesus is.  Believe that and trust that what God has begun, God will bring to full harvest.

Regarding the Vatican Council II Church, know that it will come to full stature in due time.  There may be periods of denial and regression, but the Church is a living organism and can only evolve.  Divisions of the Church that try to turn the clock back to pre Vatican II days will not succeed.  The current Roman Missal that so many find problematic will have a successor and new edition.  Believe it.  It will happen.  The lowly will be lifted up.  The people of God will continue to emerge as the Body of Christ, the Church.  The Kingdom is dawning.  

And the harvest will be great.  Believe it.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus   

TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – June 10, 2018

A reading from the Book of Genesis 3:9-15
A reading from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 4:13-5:1
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 3:20-35

Dear Reader,

This Sunday marks the church’s return to Ordinary Time.  Our last Ordinary Time Sunday was the February 11, just before Ash Wednesday ushered us in to the Season of Lent.  It has been an amazing and transformative journey.  Some have been renewed in faith.  Others entered the waters of Baptism and emerged as neophytes in the faith.  All of us have been reminded that on this journey of faith the Spirit invites us open ourselves and allow to spirit to continue our transformation in Christ and to recognize that we are, as the church proclaims, the Body of Christ.  And each Sunday, as we come together to celebrate Eucharist, we will be invited to go forth, strengthened by the Eucharist, to be the continuing presence of Christ, embracing and lifting up the little ones, as the poor church serves the needs of the poor.  That is the imagery that Pope Francis continually uses as he invites the church to renewal.

Not many will deny that these are difficult times.  As I write this a mountain on the big island of Hawaii erupts doing catastrophic damage, sending smoke and fumes high into the sky and molten lava in rivers consuming everything in its path.  What vivid imagery to capture the temper of these days.  Countries are torn by war.  Children are gassed.  Villages are leveled.  There seems to be no end to the hatred spewing from those who should be more civil in their demeanor.  Then there is the racism and sexism as the dignity of many is assaulted.  Today’s readings for this Sunday in Ordinary Time seem appropriate.

Who is the God who called us into being and sustains us?  Some proclaim a remote and sovereign God, seated on a throne, judging and condemning.  Certainly God has that power.  But that is not the God we meet in the first reading from Genesis.  God walks in the garden.  It seems clear that God wants a comfortable and personal relationship with the humans God created in God’s image and likeness.  But something unfortunate has happened since the last conversation between the humans and God.  Sin has entered and destroyed the order.  Notice that after the sin, it isn’t God who is uncomfortable with the humans.  They have become conscious of their nudity because of their guilt.  The man blames the woman for his sin.  The woman blames the serpent.  The peace and harmony in the garden has been ruptured.  Now death enters the picture and humanity must live with the consequences of sin.  But notice.  God did not become distant.  It was humans who became uncomfortable and estranged.  God’s love remains.

Paul speaks to the Corinthians and to us.  Paul’s ministry of proclaiming Christ has been fraught with suffering which Paul sees as his sharing in Christ’s sufferings.  But in his sufferings he has hope that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise those who believe in Jesus.  It is Paul’s declaration that sin and suffering will not have the final hold.  For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.  Heaven awaits.  It is eternal.  Through Christ that is our destiny.

Mark’s Gospel puts us early in Jesus’ public ministry.  Notice that multitudes surround Jesus.  Some are disciples, that is, people who have decided to follow Jesus.  Some are termed crowds.  They surround Jesus, are curious about him, even wonder at some of what he says and does, but have not made their decision to follow in his ways.  Already there is controversy and the religious leaders say Jesus is possessed by the devil, even though Jesus has been known to drive out demons.  But notice, too, that members of his family are present and they want to protect Jesus from those attacking him, even as they fear what people will say about them because their relationship.  

The image of house divided is apt.  If Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul and yet drives out Satan, Satan’s kingdom is divided and cannot stand.  If Jesus family is divided it too is in danger.  And so Jesus redefines his family as those who take his word to heart and enter into intimate relationship with God and, as disciples follow God’s will.

Don’t miss an important proclamation in the midst of all the clamor against Jesus.  It speaks to God’s attitude towards humans that we saw in the Genesis reading.  (A)ll sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.  The one sin that will not be forgiven is that against the Holy Spirit.  That sin denies Jesus power to expel demons by the power of the Spirit and those who so deny remain in that sin.

This Gospel text is multi-layered and complex.  I would invite you to spend some time with it and reflect before the proclamation on Sunday.  And as you reflect, notice the final words that result from Jesus’ hearing that his mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for him.  In asking, Who are my mother and my brothers? Jesus does not deny them, but he does broaden the concept of his family to include the disciples, those who do the will of God as a result of hearing Jesus.  Humankind becomes the family of God.  The human and divine are one.  That is what we call the Incarnation.

So, marveling at what we have heard and pondering it, we move to Eucharist and our ongoing transformation with the transformation of the bread and wine.  The Spirit transform and Christ becomes sacramentally present in the Bread and Wine.  The Spirit transforms the Assembly and they become the Body of Christ.  Christ lives in them.

But it all does now stop there.  Transformation results in a sending forth.  The Assembled must go out and continue Christ’s presence in these troubled times.  They must bring healing and peace.  Again, as Pope Francis urges, we are a servant church, a people that hold the poor in primacy of place.  We constantly proclaim human dignity and denounce bigotry, sexual trafficking and exploitation.  We uphold the dignity of all people, regardless of race, gender, or orientation.  It is God’s universal and undying love that we proclaim.  But first we must believe in it.

That is the question to ponder as you sit under the Word this Sunday.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus