Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Yes, I'll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

When I initially read Luke’s familiar account of the Centurion, I was at first struck by how much easier this was to read than John, (who after many weeks, we now leave). In re-reading the Gospel (Luke 7:1-10) again for the first time, I realized that this story of great faith in some ways seems to pick up where John left off. While the main characters are Jesus and the centurion, the message has everything to do with faith, social status, love and community. Could there be a more disparate group of friends? The image of Jewish elders coming forward to appeal to Jesus on the part of a humble Roman centurion, who in turn petitions Jesus on behalf of his friend and slave, runs counter to what we know of the social order of the day.

Yes, this is a story of great faith, but it’s a story that is enriched when the believer’s community connects the believer to God. Even the powerful, believing centurion could not do it alone. Isn’t that the way it is with us? There are times in my life when my needs and story were being carried to Jesus by my friends. My guess is that neither I nor they even knew it at the time. However, the threads that connect us to God are often woven by our friends. So, it's not just about me. It’s not just about you. It’s about us and Jesus and the community that nourishes us and helps us stay connected. But what about this thing called community? If it works so well, how come there are times when we would prefer to fly under the radar, unnoticed and content to be left alone?  Dietrich Bonheoffer in Life Together proposes the following: It is in our differences, in our struggles, in our hurts that we encounter and receive God's grace and gift most completely.   It is then that I am able to see Christ in my neighbor.  It is then that I am able to be loved in spite of myself. It is then I know most deeply my own need for God.

Yes, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In the Name of the Father from whom we come and are on our way, the Son...in whom we find our true self, and the Spirit...the divine aliveness within us all


I was asked to move to the Midwest by my employer early in my career.  This was not an easy decision for me and my family. After all at that time, disrupting everything and uprooting everyone to move far away was unheard of in my family’s “tradition.” It just wasn’t done and it was painful for all concerned. However, in time everyone adjusted to the change and in many ways we all benefitted from the experience.  What started out to be a two year commitment became fifteen.  Yet, I can remember how great it was when we would come home and visit for various occasions and holidays. I can also remember how it felt when we had to leave and return to our home, particularly in the beginning when it was still new. The last couple of hours before our departure were mixed. There were packing and last minute checks on “things.” But there were quiet and pensive moments during which we were all considerably more subdued and avoided the delicate subject of our departure. This may be a little of what John has been teaching us these last few weeks.

Our Revised Common Lectionary has presented John’s Gospel in a series of installments since Holy Thursday so that the disciples and we might understand that while Jesus would no longer be with them, he was not leaving them alone.  So, it’s important to read this brief section fromJohn 16: 12-15 John 16:12-15 as part of a continuum and not as a lecture on the doctrine of the Trinity.  John is intent on emphasizing Jesus’ ongoing loyalty, guidance and protection. The events leading up to and through and following The Last Supper contain pivotal elements of our faith:

·       Jesus demonstrates his unconditional love as a model for his disciples and us to follow.

·       He prays that they love one another and that they forever be united.

·       He knows his fate and their journey would not be easy and so he promises to send the help that they will need in the form of the Holy Spirit.

David Steindl-Rast writes in Deeper than Words: “The Holy Spirit, as the awe-inspiring power of life and love, is a reality with which every human being is familiar. We differ only by the degree to which we open ourselves to this power. Fear tends to block and close our access to life in fullness for which Jesus Christ stands. If we patiently cultivate courage and openness, we will become more and more aware of the Spirit which allows us to know God, love God and thrive in God because this power quickens our intellect, our will and our emotions…When in our Creed we proclaim our belief in the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge God as a triune with the ‘Father,’ the ultimate mystery from whom we come and to whom we are on our way; the ‘Son,’ in whom we find our true Self; the ‘Spirit,’ the divine aliveness within our innermost life, Here we touch upon the very core of faith.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Gift of the Spirit does not belong to us until it is shared

 John 14:8-17 (25-27) wants us to know the intimacy he shares with the Father and how this relationship belongs to us too. His lesson stresses the need to be a “servant” and to love one another. John’s gospels begin with action, i.e., service to one another and proceed to understanding. Isn’t this the way life works? We teach our children to be polite before they know why or how politeness and civility adds to the strength of a life and a civilization. We teach our children to learn how to calculate simple mathematical problems before they learn the theory of math (if they or we ever do so!).  We teach our children to do the "right thing," before they even know why it is right. The same can be said about the Gospel of John. Only after Jesus shows the disciples how to be a servant, and demonstrates that to them, does he bring them into the realms of intimacy and knowledge which He shares with the Father and that we in turn, can share with them. Our help resides in Jesus’ promise of intimacy with the Father, and becomes the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that will make it possible for our transformation to live God-centered lives.

Thomas Keating tells us that the Spirit of God, the promise of the Father, sums up in himself all the promises of Christ. For they all point to him. The Incarnation is a promise. The passion and death are promises. His resurrection and Ascension are each a promise. Pentecost itself, the outpouring of the Spirit, is a promise. He is the last, the greatest and the completion of all God’s promises, the living summary of them all…The Spirit, as a promise, is a gift, not a possession. Like the air we breathe, we can have all we wish for, but it does not belong to us. It must be shared. He is all ours as long as we give him away…In fact it is in giving Him away that we truly make it known that we have received Him. (The Mystery of Christ, The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience.)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

When will we become Christians?

Great discussion last night on Christian unity and community and while discussing John 17:20:26 can be confusing, it's all about love for one another. Setting aside our confusion for a moment, may I share the following from Dawn Witout Darkness by Anthony Padovano? It has nothing and everything to do with our readings:
We shall become Christians on that day when sunshine means more to us than a further acquisition.  We shall become Christians on that day when the children of the world excite us at least as much as its rulers.  We shall become Christians on that day when we use our hearts to measure the worth of a  human being, on that day when greed or pride do not lead us to friendship but only to love.  We shall become Christians when we are joyful because so many people are in love rather than because so many people are affluent.  We shall become Christians when we learn to make music and poetry, to make love and peace, to make Jesus human and to make ourselves as human as He was.  We shall become Christians when the sight of the sea makes us dance more joyously than the purchase of a new car.  We shall become Christians when we allow Jesus to speak to us by His values as well as by his words.  We shall become Christians on that morning when we laugh and sing for the right reasons and when we weep not because we have lost something but because we were given so much.                

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

So...How do you feel when someone prays for you out loud?

John has little interest in the historical Jesus; he leaves this up to the synoptic writers. Instead, he is dedicated to our knowing about the divinity of Jesus. His symbols “speak” to us in abstract, poetic metaphors, the meanings of which become personal to and in each of us as the word becomes flesh in us. He is intent on our understanding that God is all about love and in this Gospel, John 17:20-26, he depicts a reciprocal image of love between Father and Son and us, each and every one of us…past, present and future. So here we have an image of Jesus as he prepares to leave us in the hands of the Holy Spirit, praying for our oneness with God and with each other. This unity is one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry and life as he revealed the incarnation of God in Him and in us. Jesus’ life and his prayer for us is that we enter into a relationship with God by our love for one another, a relationship that takes us on a journey of transformation to a life centered in God. So rather than being an article of belief, God can be known in an intimate way as an experiential reality not removed from the world but in and of this world.

So, how do you feel when someone prays for you out loud? When we asked our Bible group this question some time ago, the answers ranged from comforted, awkward, embarrassed, grateful, honored, vulnerable, humbled and cared for. Perhaps being the intent of others’ prayers is to intimate for us? Maybe we feel “out of control” and must surrender to the will of others as they engage God with us and for us…and in us. Perhaps this is precisely what Jesus wants?