Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Can Religion Keep Us From Our Journey?

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate that “spiritual development” has less and less to do with religion. And while the Church, the Bible and the liturgy are important to our development, spiritual formation is more about learning to discern the call of God “outside,” in our everyday lives. Spiritual Formation is an ongoing dynamic process in which we develop the “tools” to be able to see and align ourselves with people, places and things in which God is at work. I know this might sound like heresy but in some ways religion can become a static process that lulls us to sleep in its repetitive sameness. As such, it can become an “obstacle” to our call to “bear witness” to God’s Word to those outside the upper room. In a real sense we are preaching to the choir! We in the comfort and security of our Church community, are like the apostles in the upper room after the Crucifixion. When Jesus appeared to the apostles and Thomas he said “... As the Father has sent me, so I send you," he beckons us as he did his disciples to leave the upper room and live our lives outside the walls of our Church as we engage in Christian practices that are fundamental to human needs, and may have nothing to do with religion but everything to do with faith. As such, we join with one another, and with Jesus, and with the communion of saints across time and space in a way of life that proclaims Christ’s victory over death and our eternal life. (Luke 24:13-35)

Now in “bearing witness” to the Word, I'm not talking about "life-style evangelism." That term for many of us, may evoke discomfort and have a strange connotation. We bear witness to the great movies or television programs we've seen and want others to enjoy. We bear witness to the accomplishments (or failures) of our sports teams. We bear witness to the important events in our family or work lives. We bear witness -- that is, tell someone about -- the things that matter to us all the time. We bear witness to feelings of joy, sadness and despair. We share life, our lives, with each other. No, I mean we bear witness to the presence of God, the Love, in all things in the here and now all the time.

Witnessing is not really all that different when it comes to faith. It does not mean shoving our beliefs down someone's throat or threatening them with eternal hellfire if they don't believe as we do. The ego tries to convince, while love shares.  To witness is simply communicating with others where we sense God’s presence -- at home or work, at church or school, or in a stranger or a friend, a doctor or teacher or neighbor, or even in a tragedy. Bearing witness is nothing more than proclaiming God’s presence in our life and  in our behavior as the Word becomes flesh in us and those we encounter as we live his Word…  by Him and with Him and in Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit.



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Our Great Confession: My Lord and My God

While we might not say this out loud, most of us often regard Bible stories as we would history. Of course in some ways they are but they are so much more; yet, it’s not always easy to see them as connecting to our real lives in a tangible way. Let’s face it, the stories are just odd enough, just unusual enough, and just foreign enough to our day-to-day experience that we don’t pretend to understand them let alone feel confident at connecting them to our daily lives. Moreover, because we have read these familiar accounts year in and year out, we tend to see them in the same way. It’s not that we’re unwilling to take a fresh look but our preconceived impressions, influenced by so many who have interpreted their meanings for us, direct us to view them through a familiar prism.

OK, so once again it’s time to read the story of “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:19-31). I suppose it might be helpful to keep in mind that the Gospel writers themselves did not think that they were telling stories about events that happened in the past. Rather, they were reporting to new audiences what they believed were current revolutionary events and claims that they knew would shape the immediate present and future of everyone who read or heard them. So while John could have shared many other stories about Jesus to make his point, he chose this particular story because he hoped that everyone who heard it would know that Jesus is the messiah, the savior of the world.

John, as he did then, is inviting us into the scene involving Jesus’ encounter with Thomas at this very moment, here, now and today…to make this our story. So, as you re-read the all-to-familiar Gospel, I invite you to walk away from it and let it marinate. If you choose to come back, where do you see yourself in the scene? Near the end of this story, immediately after Jesus has shown his wounds to Thomas, and Thomas, in turn, professes the great confession of John’s Gospel, My Lord and My God, Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I admit; I saw myself as Thomas. And sadly, for most of my life I had assumed that Jesus was rebuking Thomas, which frankly always struck me as a little harsh, since Thomas only asked for what everyone else had seen and received. (I can still hear my father saying, don’t ask why, just do it.) However, a few short years ago, in preparing for Bible Study, it occurred to me that this might be another one of those lessons that invite us to realize that we are already standing smack dab in the middle of the encounter. I mean, think about it: who are those who have believed without seeing Jesus? Well, likely some were the members of John’s community for whom he wrote. But guess what – we’re included in that group, too. We, also, have believed and struggle to continue believing without ever seeing with our eyes, or touching with our hands. And so now I think it’s not so much that Jesus is rebuking Thomas as he is blessing us. What a relief it was to realize that Jesus was not only cutting me some slack for being a “doubter” too, but was assuring me that this never-ending encounter with him continues every day of our lives and, will until the end of time. We are all characters in John 20:19-31, and are invited to learn from the faith and fear, courage and mistakes of those mere mortals who have come before. But now we are the ones who are invited to share Thomas’ confession as part of God’s plan as we proclaim My Lord and My God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Abide in Me as I in you...As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you, abide in my love

When we meditate on the meaning of Easter, we are reminded that the incarnation of the divine in Jesus Christ became more than just a role model for teaching us how to live, and became more than our intercessor for the Father. We are reminded that when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we share our spiritual and human DNA with Jesus…by him, and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, and we become one with the Father and the Son.  

In what better way could God express his unconditional love for us than by sharing his Spirit incarnated in Jesus and in us? Easter reminds us that Jesus’ resurrection is not a miracle. God can work miracles without us. No, For Easter to matter, it requires us to join Jesus in his suffering, death, and resurrection during this Holy Week… and all the holy weeks of our lives.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why Easter Matters


Easter should be considered a "sacramental" event rather than a miracle. The proclamation of a miracle excuses us from having anything to do with it.  A miracle is God’s doing.  But a sacrament, however, requires us for its existence.  God performs miracles but men celebrate sacraments in union with him.  God may work a miracle even without our faith and he may work it apart from men.  Man, however, is essential to the presence of a sacrament. 
If Easter is to be a sacramental event, we must celebrate it with our lives.  Easter is sacramental every time one of us makes his life a source of light for his fellow man.  Easter is sacramental when our words heal, when our hearts understand, when lesser values die in us for the sake of greater realities. And the Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us. Jesus became incarnate to not only teach us how to live our lives but for us to reside in Him. When the priest says “in him through him and with him,” he’s reminding us of our participation in his birth, death and resurrection.

We are sacramental with Easter when men know us to be faithful to each other.  We are sacramental with Easter when our fellow men see us suffer not for selfish advantage but for their redemption.  Easter is never more sacramental than when one man gives his life on behalf of another.
Christians seek to make Easter sacramental in their lives by their memory of Jesus.  When Jesus is remembered, he has not died or risen alone. We are untied with him as we experience our Good Fridays and as we celebrate our resurrections. Jesus is an Easter-maker. John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want"


He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Daily experience shows us how difficult it is to stand up for those spiritual values to which we are committed even when we are at our best. Whenever we have to swim against the current or buck the trend we can relate to why Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. St Paul reminds us that “Indeed, all who wish to live God-centered lives in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution.” (2 Titus 3:12)

Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, among others were punished and in some cases killed for standing up for their values.

For us no less than Jesus, history is the stage on which our spiritual convictions are put to the test. Jesus was executed by a domination system that is as powerful today as it was then. How do we in our everyday lives follow Jesus as we too stand up for our spiritual values and in our own way “suffer under Pontius Pilate?”

He Was Crucified…

 Jesus’ crucifixion is a matter of historical fact. He like so many “prophets” who represented threats as subversive to Jewish law and Roman authority, were subjected to murder by crucifixion.  Crucifixion was the corporal punishment of choice for political radicals, designed to kill the convicted and to send a powerful message to any followers, that his “reign” was ended. 

What then might be the spiritual implication of Jesus’ crucifixion for us? Perhaps this question is best found in our Creed, which professes that our faith in the incarnate, Jesus Christ, is one and the same with God. Our belief in Jesus who, in his humanity fully shared in God’s divine spirit, united us in Him through Him with Him.  Thus when we profess that God’s tangible presence in the world was crucified, we express our faith that we can encounter God in the most horrible circumstances. In the midst of crucifixion—a scene that seems to scream out God’s absence…God is present. There is never anything so terrible in life or death that prevents us from enduring it with the trust in God’s presence. There is no injustice, no pain, no catastrophe that prevents us from God’s enduring love. This has given to countless men and women of faith a sense of peace and comfort in the midst of their darkest hours. (Matthew 26:14-27:66)
(Adapted from Deeper than Words, Living the Apostles Creed, David Stendl-Rast).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

...Jesus Wept


As I read the Gospel appointed for this upcoming Sunday, I happened to recall a news story from Sunday night. I called out to my wife, asking if she remembered the name of the young girl who died of cancer. The story got my attention and had a lasting effect. My wife answered, “Gabriella Miller,” and wondered what prompted my need to know. I said, “I don’t know, but something I read this morning reminded me of that young girl.” That something I read was John’s (John 11:1-45) account of the story of Lazarus. Is there any more familiar story to Christians than that of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? In fact, the story is so well-known that “Lazarus” has become a well-known metaphor for revival and resurrection beyond the realm of religion.

So why did I connect the Lazarus story to this child, who died last fall at the age of 10? Gabriella was diagnosed with brain cancer in November of 2012 but rather than retreat to her illness and the discomfort of all the interventions designed to reverse or halt her condition, she never lost hope. Instead, she dedicated her young, fragile life to raising awareness for cancer in children who like her, are suffering and who unlike her, have no voice and quietly retreat to waiting. She became a force for action, raising funds to support research and seeing to the “comfort” and wishes of terminally ill youngsters. To that end she raised millions of dollars and vicariously saw to the aid and comfort of hundreds of afflicted children.

The story of Lazarus shares much in common with the woman at the well and the blind man. The faith of Martha and Mary and the Samaritan woman’s belief that Jesus was the Messiah, instilled a spark of faith in all those around them. They stepped out of their comfort zones despite the risk of being criticized if not condemned.

 In many ways Gabriella is like the woman at the well. She defied her illness as the Samaritan defied convention. Gabriella did not step back in a silence, reserved for the terminally ill, and was not willing to submit to her illness as she called for action… as we stand by wringing our hands in sympathy…and go on about our lives. No, the story of Lazarus doesn’t lead us to believe that God would save Gabriella from death, or raise her from the dead; after all, even Lazarus would eventually succumb to physical death. But the story makes us realize that God through Gabriella resurrects us and brings our faith to life as we see the love of God through the eyes of this 10 year old child.