Archives for the month of: August, 2013

Image

 

Photo by Matt Rubens at Flickr.com

Sts. Clare & Francis
August 25, 2013
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 25:6-9
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30
Homily by Frank Krebs

Vision Statement
The background for tonight’s gospel is an ancient “vision statement” from the prophet Isaiah (our first reading).

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
   the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
   and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
   for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
   Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25:6-9[i])

This was a classic “vision of where we are headed” that the Israelites looked to as they walked across time.  It is a depiction of a royal feast, think dinner time at Downton Abbey or Windsor Castle for some special occasion.  This is a foodie’s delight.  But, but, but…it is a feast for all people.  Think Downton Abbey with all the servants sitting at the same table with the Earl and his wife’s whole family and where their social distinctions disappear.  This is a vision of fulfillment for everyone that extends up and down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that is to say, the poor have plenty of food and everyone has stepped into their own and become who they were meant to be.
 
Could Everyone Be Included?

Over time there became a kind of tension around this passage.  On the one hand it speaks of all people enjoying this feast, evidencing the universality of God’s embrace.  On the other we see a reference to God’s people as the ones being saved in this picture.  The question becomes: are all people God’s people.  Or does “God’s people” refer just to the Israelites? 

So in tonight’s gospel someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” (Luke 13:23)  It may seem at first glance like Jesus responds that only a few will make it, but that’s really not what he is saying at all.

One at a Time, Individually
He says, “Strive to come in through the narrow door.”  A narrow door is one through which everyone must pass individually; a whole group cannot come in at once.  “Many…will try to enter and will not be able,” to enter as a group that is.  But also he says “strive” for it is essentially difficult for us to be responsible for our own individual behavior. 

It’s easier to understand this if we look at what a wide door might mean to Jesus’ hearers—then and now.  What group thinks it is heading toward the banquet of God’s goodness as a group?  Jesus points out that some of his contemporaries think it is enough to be the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The artist Luke also “paints the picture” so that his readers, who study the scriptures and break bread together at the eucharist each week, can’t get away with saying, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our [neighborhood].’

That’s the wide door that doesn’t work; we don’t come to the banquet, the goal of history, based on our group identities.

To come in the narrow door means to come in as an individual.  In the context of Jesus’ teaching that means to ask the question of myself, “Do I right now in the present hear the urging of God and act on it?”  And what is God urging?  God is urging that we put the vision statement into practice now. If all are invited to God’s life, then all are invited to share mine.  The banquet of life does not exclude anyone based on their group identity.  If our mission statement is that all are welcome and that all have dignity and that no one is higher or lower than anyone else—then I must make that my mission statement.  And I must act on that now if that mission is ever to be fulfilled.  And when I find myself wandering from the vision I must turn and go back to the vision for that is the only door that works. 

Noticing Our Group Identity Glasses
There was a woman columnist who was reflecting on the rodeo clown incident at the Missouri State Fair.   This columnist is no friend of President Obama.  But because she was a woman, she said, if the situation were different, she could understand the brouhaha better.  If we finally had a woman president and a rodeo clown put on the mask of the female president and invited an overwhelmingly male crowd to approve of bulls running over her, she imagined how she would feel as a woman.  It’s not like there is no history of violence against women.  People who are “below the line” on the social “who’s-up-and-who’s-down?” chart understand these things.  There are lots of masks that rodeo clowns could be wearing. 

And funny thing is, they are usually group identity masks.  That is, in most people’s minds, people should be excluded based on broad group identities, just like they think that they should be accepted based on broad group identities.  This is what privilege is all about.  To enter the narrow door is to practice the mind of God—which is different from our mind—every single day, each of us, regardless of what everyone else is doing.  Everyone gets my respect.  I am not above anyone.  I am not below anyone.  Only those of us who finally get this in our souls would ever even want to sit down at a banquet with people who don’t look and act and think like us.  We are being transformed now so that we will even want to be at a party like that.

Isaiah and Luke Want to Correct Our Vision
If God had God’s way, we learn tonight, we would neither be included nor excluded based on group identities.  We are headed toward the banquet (and the world is headed toward the banquet) every time we appreciate the precious nature of the person right in front of us now. 

The Eucharist which we are about to celebrate symbolizes this well.  And Christ, who has called us together and who is present with us, is able to transform us into a people who move beyond group identities.  Amen?


[i] This is a fuller, richer statement of what we see in the first verse of what was supposed to be tonight’s first reading, Isaiah  66:18; that is why I substituted it.  fk

Advertisements

ImagePhotograph by Mark Thiessen
National Geograhic Staff

Focus: There are times when the dry kindling of our souls and society need to burn.

Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said:

Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do?

The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire.  He said:  Why not become fire?[i]

The words of Jesus in this week’s gospel passage, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already burning… I have come to bring division,” are second only to the crucifixion in their ability to stir our soul and utterly confound us.  It’s moments like these when there is no pretending that the Reign of God is some utopia or easy road.  It’s a force beyond our control that upsets our lives and messes with our relationships.  The force of God in our lives can be like fire, and we are best warned when we begin to think we might control it… especially when we are called to become it!

In 1910 the first director of the U.S. National Forest Service stated, “We understand that forest fires are wholly within the control of man.”  Today, as we’ve seen in dramatic media coverage, wildfires continue to threaten the West, burning bigger and badder than ever before.  I read a National Geographic Magazine article on this phenomenon of growing fires and dollars spend on fighting them.[ii]   It became an incredible metaphor for the way fire can work on our souls and in our society.  The more resources and energy we’ve put into controlling fires, the more we have created conditions – dense forest, dry leaves and branches, homes close to fire zones – to spark these mega fires that elude firefighters and reap awesome destruction.   “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already burning.”

A helicopter passes, its orange bucket sailing overhead like a comet, mist trailing behind. Justin Bone watches it go and shakes his head. “We’re spending millions on 1,500 acres,” he says. “How many city fire departments would that pay for? They might as well be pouring dollars on the fire.”

…Bone loves his job. And he shares with many others the belief that trying to fight all fires is a loser’s game. Bone favors an alternative strategy called “wildland fire use,” in which some wildfires are monitored but allowed to burn, gradually thinning the forests and clearing out fuel… Many plant species benefit from a periodic purging. Bone stabs a finger toward the forest, heavy with ponderosa pine. With their thick, tough bark, the trees can survive all but the most severe burns. Other pines require fire for reproduction; their seed cones are coated in a waxy resin that must be melted off by heat to free the seeds. As fire burns dead wood and live plants, it also releases nutrients into the soil. This is crucial in arid zones, where decomposition without fire would take decades….

“That’s the future, man,” Bone says. “We need to learn to let things burn.”[iii]

Moving from this environmental crisis to our own souls, does it not feel at times like life is a constant effort to put our brush fires, to manage every part of our life?  Some days it feels like we’re succeeding – we successfully avoided the talk about religion with Aunt Mary, we appeared busy enough to get by at work, we summoned barely enough energy to ask the kids how they’re doing today.  God forbid something start burning.  There’s always a ready solution at our disposal – shopping, drink, work, TV, distractions.  We are taught so well how to control the burning.  But then one day we wake up and learn a wayward spark has set aflame a part we didn’t even know we need to be concerned about!  We can live our entire lives subject to the winds, trying to constantly predict the unpredictable… or we can learn to let things burn…

Burning can be a scary prospect, but, like the forest, creates potential for new life.  Sometimes it’s clear in our lives when burning is necessary.  When I was pregnant with my son and my mom was sick in Chicago with pancreatic cancer, the pain in my body and soul was excruciating.  I did everything in my power to try to put it out – acupuncture, exercises, spiritual direction.  I was full with child and felt like a little one being ripped away from her mother.  When I finally went into labor the physical pain was so instructive.  It was a relief to feel the burning, the surrender to death that is so essential to giving birth.  The burning literally brought new life into the world, transformed me into a mother, and connected me to my own mother miles away.

A Japanese haiku by Masahial goes:

The barn has burned
to the ground.
Now I can see the moon.

Letting go of control, little by little, means we let fire touch and transform our lives.  In these burns, everything is subject to the power of flame – our homes, our possessions, our families, our privilege, our hubris in believing we had control.  Those things that were dry in us burn up.

As we become fire, there is danger that sparks from our own lives may leap to others.  Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire.”  This is the warning and promise of the gospel.  Not everyone is glad to be set on fire.  It hurts.  It burns.  One person on fire means other people have to change around them.  It messes with systems and forces change.

Our own patron is a witness to the way letting go of control can change everything… even the church.  Francis tried to satiate the burning with an exciting social life, valor in war, and then through service to the poor.  But eventually everything needed to burn.  Because Francis took bolts of cloth from his father’s business, selling them and giving away the money, his father brings a legal suit against Francis.

But the day’s surprises had just begun.

With remarkable composure, Francis rose from his place and approached the bishop. “My lord,” he said, raising his voice, “I will gladly give back to my father not only the money acquired from his things, but even all my clothes.” With that, Francis slipped through a side door of the cathedral, only to appear moments later stark naked, standing before the bishop and holding out all his clothes, with a cash purse placed on top of them. The astonished bishop took the garments and the money, handing them over to an acolyte.

Francis now turned to the crowd and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Until now, I have called Peter Bernardone my father. But because I have proposed to serve God, I return to him the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, and I want only to say from now on, ‘Our Father, Who art in heaven,’ and not, ‘My father, Peter Bernardone.’”[iv]

Father against son, and yet the burning of this tragedy for Francis’ family freed him to become a wildfire that forever changed the church and inspires our mission to burn away all that is dead in religion and come back to life!

We are all in different places.  For some of us, it may be time to take a first look at all the brushfire popping up in our lives and wonder if they really need to be doused.  For some of us our lives have recently been ravaged by an uncontrolled fire, we are looking for the small green shoots of new life.  For others, we’ve prepared, we’ve known drought, we have no more energy to put out another fire – so perhaps, as Abba Joseph suggests… why not become fire?

Rev. Jessica Rowley
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2013
Focus text: Luke 12: 49-56


[i] The Desert Fathers found in Christine Valters Paintner, PhD Praying With the Elements: Reflections in Word and Image, (Abby of the Arts Press, 2007) 28.

[ii] Neil Shea, “Under Fire,” National Geographic Magazine online (July 2008) http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/07/fire-season/shea-text.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi, quoted in “Soulwork toward Sunday: a self-guided retreat,” http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/proper15c.html.

Image

 

Photo by Gillie
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sts. Clare & Francis
August 11, 2013
Wisdom 18:6-9
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12
Luke 12:35-40
Homily by Frank Krebs

The Household of God

At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus asks us to be vigilant, or alert, about the way we relate to each other in “the household of God,” that is, the church.

Jesus tells a story about a typical Roman household where master and slaves are living in the same family unit.  Jesus is certainly not condoning slavery, as we shall see; but he will use a familiar household example to say something about his vision of a different kind of household, namely, God’s household. 

Motivating Tension

The story has a kind of tension that comes from the servants not knowing when the master of the house will return from a wedding.  Naturally the possible imminent return of the master would motivate the servants to behave differently than if, for instance, they knew that the master had died.  In that case they could live with abandon!

It strikes me that this is the same kind of tension that a vision or a goal generally establishes.  Some psychologists suggest that goals are effective because they create a kind of tension in us.  We are at A; the goal, which is desirable, is at B.  I’m unsatisfied until I am at B.  This tension motivates us to act in the present the way we will be acting in the future, i.e. to move toward the goal.  Hold that thought!

Surprising Turn of Status

Getting back to the story, we as the listeners are invited to see whom we identify with.  If we are members of the church as Luke’s readers would be, we have two choices; we are either the master or the slaves.  Since even the master in this odd story acts like a slave when he does finally arrive, we are all invited to see ourselves as a new kind of household, where even the person of authority is a servant.  This is a new vision of household that Jesus is proposing as a possible future for us to consider and choose: a community of mutual service where even the leaders are servants.  It would not be to grandiose to say that Luke and the early church are proposing this as the Jesus-inspired goal of history.  Mary’s Song at the beginning of Luke is clearly playing in the background; the world in Mary’s and this present text’s vision is turned upside down. In this vision of Jesus, this goal for us, “hierarchies of status are nullified.[i]

The Church of Utrecht

As you may know, I just returned from taking an intensive theology course in The Netherlands.  I was studying the theology of the Catholic Church of Utrecht, which has been independent from Rome for almost 300 years.  They really have tonight’s gospel down.  They very much believe in the role of the ordained.  But they very much do not believe in a hierarchy of status within the church.  Everyone seems to understand this from the Archbishop to the lay members of the church.  (Notice I didn’t say, “…on down.”)  We met with the Archbishop and over and over again he stressed the non-domination character of the church and the ordained in particular.  And once when I was with a laymen going through a museum together, I was making a comment about a painting and saying that in the ancient world the important people always walked at the beginning of the procession and that Paul wanted to change that by putting church leaders at the end to emphasize there servant nature (1 Corinthians 4:9).  Making the point one better this member of the Church of Utrecht said, “this phrase, ‘the important people,’ is very dangerous.”  I knew then that I had found a church that understood the gospel the way I was beginning to.  I later asked one of their leading theologians if the bishops ever interfered with their work, e.g., told them what they could or couldn’t say.  He said no and that in fact the bishops would never put out a statement without consulting with everyone including especially the theologians.  I really believe that this is a church we can use as a model for us.  It is very Catholic in every important way; but it is a “community of servants.”  I’ll address more about what I learned over there along these lines on September 21st at a convocation.  On that day we will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ECC.  For now I just want to add that we in the ECC are at the beginning of a process of electing a new presiding bishop.  I am being considered for nomination.  I am at total peace about however this goes.  But I know with all my heart that being a presiding bishop does not mean dominating; it means serving.  It means providing the kind of leadership that allows all to thrive.  That’s what servants do: attend to others needs.

Revelation of Jesus, The Model

Getting back to the gospel, we are halfway through Luke’s story.  This passage echoes the beginning of the story with Mary’s Song of a world turned on its ear, where the lowly are raised, the great are lowered, and where a world of brothers and sisters is created.  And it echoes the end of Luke’s story where Jesus at the “Last Supper” finds his disciples arguing over status and says, “It must not be so among you.  The leader must be like the one who serves.”  And then says, “I am among you as one who serves.”

What We Are Celebrating at the Eucharist

So as we continue with the Eucharist, look at the meaning we have to take with us:

  • The goal of the world is that we all sit down at the same table as brothers and sisters. 
  • We’re at the table now in a kind of sacramental tension; the vision is being revealed again and Christ is serving us.
  • All are fed.

We are sent out with this goal in our hearts to begin again to make


[i] Green, The Gospel of Luke, pp. 496ff

Image

 

Photo by Judy van der Velden at Flickr.com
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Saturday Evening, August 3, 2013
Liturgy for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Focus Text: Luke 12:13-21

Getting Acquainted

Today’s homily is somewhat of a book review on Richard Rohr’s latest “The Immortal Diamond – The Search for Our True Self.”  The title echoes a famous quote from Thomas Merton describing the true self as that part of us that came from God and is returning to God, which is “a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven.”

The book is of interest tonight as all three readings beckon us to consider the false self.  The first reading laments that at times our false self seems so pervasive that “all is vanity.”  Paul writes about the moral distinctions between the true and false self in the second reading.  Jesus in the gospel paints a picture for us of the false self to help us see this part of ourselves more clearly.  Fr. Richard warns us over and over again in his book that the spiritual journey does not get very far if we do not get to know our false selves.  So if, like me, you ever lose touch with your false self, today’s liturgy gives us a chance to sit down get reacquainted.

A Necessary Container

In the gospel, Jesus tells the story of a farmer having a great year.  He has a bumper crop and he is deciding what to do about it.  Since he took Economics 101 in school, he knew that when grain was plentiful the price went down.  So he decided to build more storage facilities and sell the grain later when the price was higher.  Smart guy.  His situation could be a case study in an MBA class.  Remember Joseph with the coat of many colors in Egypt?  He was a hero for doing the same thing.

Jesus, however, is not impressed.  The way he tells the story it sounds like the farmer and his warehouses were one (count the number of times the farmer uses the pronoun “I”).  He does not consult his family, his employees, his tribe or his God.  You get the sense that if you take away his warehouses there would be nothing left of him.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus is much more concerned about things that are not bad in themselves – family, status in the community, possessions, tribal pride, religious compliance – than he is about moral failings! It is the things we consider good that confuse us about our true identity.

When my eldest daughter was ready for school she had a show stopping head of thick blond hair.  She would always get comments in the grocery store and she learned to toss her head in just the right way to maximize the effect.  One day she brought home an exercise from school where the kids were asked by the teacher to identify a trait that made them special.  You can imagine the answers like “helpful to mom” or “kind to animals.”  I was mortified when I saw that Teresa wrote down “my hair.”  Rohr says that each of us build a container to present ourselves to the world- our body shape, our personality, our job, our reputation, our possessions, our special skills etc.  The spiritual journey begins in earnest when we know these things are just a container for the true self.

There is much news these days about Nelson Mandela as he enters the final stages of life.  His life story exhibits energy that is opposite that of the farmer in the story.  When he was a young man at the top of his game the government took away his job, but that did not diminish him.  They took away his family and he retained his dignity.  They took away his freedom, his books.  They took away his reputation and called him a criminal.  Although stripped of his “container” they could not reduce him, they could not affect him.  The dignity of his true self was still there year after year blazing like a diamond.

Naming Our Container

The reason our container is false is that it wants to be more than what it is – just a container.  Our containers can change many times in a lifetime, but who we are does not change.  Containers are necessary, they are just incomplete.  I think Richard’s book is particularly strong on this point – our container is not something to be hated, feared or avoided.  It just has to be named for what it is.

In order to name our false self we need somewhere else to stand.  That somewhere is home base, the true self.  We do not find it, it finds us.  Merton describes it like it like a door opening to the infinite at the center of our being that we seem to fall though.  Rohr explains:  “This door needs only to opened only once in your lifetime, and you will forever know where home base is.  You will henceforth be dissatisfied with anything less.”  I suggest to you that this is a main reason why communities like this exist:  to use word, action, song, relationship, ministry etc., to help each other recognize home base.

So let’s honor these texts from our tradition by sitting down and having coffee this week with our container, our false self.  Remember it will try to fool you.  Just call it by name.

Amen

George von Stamwitz