Archives for the month of: October, 2013

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One of the great things about parables is that they frustrate the superficial reading.  If we just stay on the surface of today’s gospel we would conclude the Pharisee here is acting like a jerk and remind ourselves that self-righteousness is bad and humility is good.  Then after the homily we can close with a prayer that, strangely, sounds a lot like the Pharisee:  “Dear God, thank you that you have graced us not to be self-righteous jerks like some people.  Amen.”

A deeper reading helps us see our common humanity with both the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The author Parker Palmer has a definition of spirituality that helps me look beyond the surface of the text:  Spirituality is “that longing within the human breast that makes us want to connect with something bigger than our own ego.”  Whatever the Pharisee is doing here, he is not being spiritual! He seems to be using religion to love himself rather than God.  He can’t get beyond himself.  This evening we ponder how we can get past ourselves to spirituality.

The Pharisee in Me

The spiritual direction tool called the Enneagram is a window into this part of ourselves that prays the “Pharisee prayer,” that part of ourselves that continually seeks to put ourselves above and apart from others.  The Enneagram suggests we adopt one or more of nine primary narratives that are addictive for us.  For example you may find yourself praying “God, thank you that unlike other people you have made me Creative.”  Or “Blessed are you God that unlike others I am Needed by so many so often.”  Some of the other primary addictions involve being Successful, a Crusader, being Reliable, being Powerful.  When we pursue our particular addictive narrative we are really bumping into our own ego.

I am a 3 on the Enneagram who is addicted to twisting reality to be Successful.  This was particularly exaggerated in my youth, although I still do it practically every day.  For example, I have many distinct memories as a young person being utterly mystified at my father who, in my opinion, did not seem to know how to be successful in some of his family and neighborhood endeavors.  What he could do to be more successful seemed obvious to me.  If I was a praying person at the time I would have prayed “Thank you God I was not made clueless like other people.”

I totally identify with the Pharisee because I know I use religion to feed my narrative.  This is now most obvious to me as I review those early days after I had reaffirmed myself as a Christian when I was about 17.  One thing was clear, I was going to be the most Successful Christian around! Success was defined as knowing your Bible (it was not a Catholic group), being in a small group and visiting old people in nursing homes.  I was the best.  God mercifully used all this energy, but it was more about me loving me than loving God.

We can also have a communal Pharisee. “We thank God we are not like other churches that are wrong on the women question.”  Or “We thank you God that we have evolved past those communities that are wrong on the question of homosexuality.”  These are, of course, good things, gifts we have received.  But they can still be high jacked by our communal ego and squash spirituality.

A Spiritual Prayer

I have grown up some, but I know I am not over my addictive narrative.  This narrative will always be with me.  The solution is awareness and our model in the text is the tax collector.  In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were looked down upon as people who have sold out to the Roman system and they were presumed to be dishonest.  The tax collector’s ego narrative was not working for him because of his circumstances.  As such, he was actually having a spiritual moment in prayer because he was “beyond himself” in his religious practice and could pray “Lord have mercy!”

The genius of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it begins with the admission that I need to get beyond myself.  I need a safe place to say “I am an addict” of my particular ego narrative.  I see the Pharisee in me and I pray “Lord have mercy.”  I long for a spiritual journey that gets past my ego, “Lord have mercy.”  I long for greater awareness of my ego games, “Lord have mercy on me.”  My narrative has certain gifts, and I want to use the gifted part of my narrative to love rather than build Me, “Lord have mercy.”  I thank God this community is a safe place for such conversation.

Today’s text has inspired a famous prayer which is particularly precious to the Orthodox traditions.  Called “The Jesus Prayer” it says “Lord Jesus Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.”  For many this prayer is like a mantra and is a pathway to contemplation.  Another use of the prayer is to ward off temptation and this week I have been experimenting with it as my addictive narrative pops up now and again.  You may want to try it.

For sure the first few times I heard about the enneagram and my addictive narrative I did not consider it to be good news! But awareness is such good news, and I pray this Eucharist inspires us to help us with awareness and finding a spirituality beyond ourselves.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

 

Homily – Getting Beyond Me

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, October 26, 2013

Focus text: Luke 18: 9-14

 

Photo by Alaina Abplanalp on flickr.com

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wrestle

Intro

Today’s first reading is one part of a tale from the Hebrew Scriptures that just might be my favorite story to be found there.  In the RCC lectionary which we almost always follow it never appears.  But when I saw that it was an option in the lectionary used by other Christian churches for this week, I jumped at it.  I can’t wait to share this story with you.  It is a beautiful depiction of the human person before God.  Whatever readings are picked, the theme of this week is persistence in prayer.  I just believe that this reading goes far deeper than the other options do.

Born Wrestling

Once upon a time there was a man named Isaac who had two twin sons, Esau and Jacob. We’re told that Jacob came out of the womb holding on to Esau, almost as if they had been wrestling.  The competition didn’t stop there.  Jacob grew up jealous of Esau because Esau as the elder (by several minutes) was in line to get the major portion of the inheritance from his father.

Stealing a Blessing

When his father was old and dying it was time for him to pass on a special blessing to his eldest son, Esau.  Isaac was blind with age.  Jacob pretends to be Esau so that he will get the blessing instead.  Isaac is fooled and blesses Jacob, who lies and claims to be Esau.  [Perhaps the apparent legalism of this text makes you wonder why God would participate in the wrong person getting a blessing through a lie.  Stay tuned.  This story is rich.]

Longing for Home

Jacob goes off to a foreign land and indeed receives over time a life that anyone would say was “blessed.”  However it was not without its difficulties.  Something is not quite right with Jacob as he grows older.  He longs to see his brother again.  The desire to see his brother is enough to brave the possibility that his brother may kill him if he sees him, Jacob thinks, because Jacob stole the blessing that was intended for Esau.

Unfinished Business

So Jacob takes his entire household of kin and servants and flocks of various animals and heads back to where Esau lives.  In mythic style he comes to a great river that separates the two lands.  He sends his entire retinue ahead of him across the river, but explains that he must stay behind for one more night because he has some unfinished business.

Wrestling with Being True

At night he falls into a deep sleep.  He finds himself in this world of the unconscious truth-telling to be wresting again.  This is not like in the womb and his early life when he wrestled with Esau.  This was someone different.  They wrestled all night.  Like obsession that any of us might find ourselves wrestling with in our sleep, Jacob keeps asking for a blessing.  Sometimes in our dreams we mull over the key events of our lives—attempting to find meaning.  Jacob is still looking for a blessing.  He’s been greatly blessed, but something is missing.  The person in the dream says, “Let me go!”  Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you give me a blessing.”  The person says, “What is your name?”  He says, “Jacob.”  The person says, “I have a new name for you, Israel—One who wrestles with God.”  Jacob says, “Tell me your name.”  The person says, “Do you really need to ask me my name?”  At that moment Jacob knew that he had seen God face to face and lived.  Then Jacob understood why God asked him in his dream, “What is your name?”  Before he had lied and said his name was Esau; now he tells the truth, owns up to who he really is and receives the deepest blessing he had ever received.  He names that place Penuel, “the face of God.”

The Encounter

Then he goes across the river and proceeds with his whole household toward the land of his father where Esau lives.  He is afraid the whole time that when Esau sees him, Esau might kill him.  Almost as if this were the inspiration for Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, Jacob sends a message ahead of him declaring that Esau is his lord and that he, Jacob, is his servant.  When Esau is within sight, he is still afraid.  He bows seven times as he approaches his long lost brother.  But his brother Esau runs to meet him and embraces him, and they both cry.

Esau says who are all these people and where did all these flocks come from?  Jacob explains that it is the blessing that he has received and that he wants to give it to Esau so that he can be on good terms again.  Esau says, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”  Jacob insists saying this is a blessing I want to give you; it is I who have all that I want; for seeing you is like seeing God face to face.  This is the second time that Jacob saw God face to face and lived, rather than dying like he thought.

Esau says, again like the ringing words of a great people’s tale, “Let’s journey together; I will be right alongside of you.  Then Esau gives Jacob a blessing of his own providing for all his needs.

Is This Your Story?

In prayer we wrestle with God.  We are aware of our tendency to wander, aware of our desire to be true, aware of God’s love through it all!  As James Finley says, “We sit in the wordless wonder of realizing that God can no longer find the place where we stop and God begins. Nor can God find the place where God stops and we begin. Nor is God inclined to try to do so. For [God’s] child has come home.”[i]  Seeing God face to face!!!

October 19, 2013
Sts. Clare & Francis ECC
29th Sunday of the Year
Genesis 32:22-31 (focus text)
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2
Luke 18:1-8
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Tsutomu Takasu on flickr.com

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Challenges, the School of Trust

Sometimes communities like ours go through times when life feels particularly challenging.  At times like this I think of Moses, hearing the complaints of the Israelites in the desert about the lack of water, saying, “A water problem?  We can’t be having a water problem.  We’re due in the Promised Land a year from now.  Why do we have to stop and deal with this?!”  Moses and the Israelites maybe weren’t in a mood to hear it, but hidden in “the water problem” was the seed of the Promised Land.  The Promised Land is the land of walking in trust with the Living God.  The same was true for the Egyptians-to-our-back-and-the-Red-Sea-to-our-front problem, the no food problem, the golden-calf problem, etc.  It was all a part of the journey of learning to trust. 

The first reading tonight is not about the exodus from Egypt, but it tells the story of a people who were steeped and forged in that tradition.  When a foreign military commander is troubled by leprosy, one of the Israelite girls, who had been captured and carried off by his armies, essentially says in total innocence, “Hey, everybody!  I know what we can do about this leprosy!  Let’s trust God!”  Trust in God he did, and he was cleansed of his leprosy.  Tonight’s gospel echoes this ancient story. 

Discerning God’s Moves

I want to tease out this notion of growing in trust of God over a long journey.  George von Stamwitz has shared with us brilliantly about how there is value in thinking of God as a verb rather than a noun.  A noun is something that can be named.  God is someone whom we know through God’s activity like a verb.  God is on the move, living and loving.  Our job is not to define God, but to discern where God is moving  and to walk with Her. 

When we as a community are discerning the leading of the Mysterious One, there is a sense of being a people that is important.  Even Moses could not act as though he were not in communion with his people.  Certainly the early Christians acted as a community; theirs was not a top-down world.  So while leadership was important, sometimes the community as a whole had to discern the movement of God, even if the leaders take a leading role.  (See Acts 15) 

Each of Us Plays a Part

An important part of our trusting is this.  Each of us needs to trust that God is speaking to each other.  Each of us, because of our different life experiences and a variety of other factors, is able to hear different urgings from the Divine Initiator.  So as a group we never know where the next part of the discernment is going to come from.  Grace falls where it may.  So with great respect for our differences and our call to be one community, we move forward, trusting that God will indeed move (for God is a verb) and that we will be able to sync up with Her direction and pace.

September 12, 2013 
Sts. Clare & Francis ECC 
28th Sunday of the Year 
2 Kings 5:14-17 
2 Timothy 2:8-13 
Luke 17:11-19

Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Laura Gilmore on flickr.com

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First time through this gospel I found myself saying “Wait a minute!  What do you mean no rewards?  The R word is used a lot in the gospels.  I had the distinct impression joining Jesus’ team had some benefits.  What about the reward of knowing God’s plan for my life?  What about answered prayer?  What about the reward of eternal life for crying out loud?”

We are in a section of Luke’s gospel where Jesus is contrasting true discipleship with the patterns of the Pharisees.  One major theme in this section is the pattern of the Pharisees to use religion to create a system of reward and punishment and to give honor to the few, like the Pharisees.  In this context Jesus takes a shot at the whole notion of spirituality as a reward system.  It seems Jesus has a very different view of God than the Pharisees do.  Jesus is messing with their imaginations.  Let’s see if tonight Jesus can mess with ours.

Transactional vs. Love Relationships

Before being too hard on the Pharisees, there are certainly times in our life when we like, even need, spiritual reward systems.  There are several good models out there for the stages of spiritual development (Scott Peck is a good place to start).  Although they differ in details, these models all talk about a formative stage where we see God as a noun, separate from ourselves.  When we are in this stage God is the patriarchal father out there that needs to be found, that gives us gifts or discipline, that saves us from things.  This is a God of rewards and punishment, of heaven and hell, that is holy, separate and distinct.  At this stage we like to believe achievement is where it’s at and that consequences are important.  I have cycled through this stage more than once.  If this is where our spiritual head is at, today’s gospel will not make sense.  We are like the Pharisees only if stay stuck at this stage.

These models all say that if we are not stuck, we circle through another step in our spiritual development, where we begin to see God as more like a verb than a noun.  Here eternal life is not something you receive as a reward, rather it is something you start living.  Luke hints at this in the story of the Prodigal Son when the son returned and wanted a “transaction” whereby he would to live separate as a servant.  Instead the father exclaimed “all I have is yours.”  Of all the gospel writers John goes the deepest into these waters where Jesus prayed at the end “I in them, they in me, I in You, that they may be perfectly one.”  Here we see God “abiding in us” and the boundaries are fuzzy.  We begin to see that within us is something that is fully ourselves, fully human, yet at the same time fully divine – like the Christ was fully human and fully divine.  God no longer feels separate.

Our experience is like this.  At our best we do not keep score in our deepest relationships.  In fact, while mutuality in love relationships is healthy, we all know there are lots of times in life where we love with no return, with no reward.  When we dip our toe into unconditional love we know at a deep level that we are exercising an important spiritual muscle.  Why then would we want a relationship with God that is conditional, that keeps score, that is so transactional?

Similarly, when we consider those moments in our lives when we feel conscious and connected to God the feeling is not one of separation or performance.  When we feel momentarily awakened, for example, while watching children at play, the moment feels like a gift not a reward.  In these graced moments we feel “connected” and part of something greater than ourselves rather than aware of how separate we are from reality.

It’s Already Given!

I am reading a book called “The Grace of Dying” authored by a long time hospice nurse.  The author sees definite patterns in the hundreds of natural deaths she has witnessed and she sees death as “our final stage of growth.”  She reports that for many people the stages of spiritual development we have been talking about tonight occur in an accelerated fashion as death approaches.  Images of God carried for decades fall away as the ego falls away and for some God is finally experienced as Verb, as God connected within.  As the moment of death comes near God is not seen as foreign or separate.  No more deals.  No more performance.  Death is not “beam me up Scotty” to some separate place or ET’s friends sending a ship from a foreign home.  Rather it is more like something within us reaching out to embrace what has always been there.

Have you seen in your journey a movement from a transactional relationship with a separate God to one that is more like growing into what has already been given?  If we take part in this natural movement priorities we have been talking about here, like social justice and inclusion, will become second nature.  If we can imagine that nobody is separate, that everyone has been given this spark of the infinite, all of a sudden the dignity of all becomes necessary.  If God is no longer “out there” we can no longer treat others like they were “out there.” Nobody is more rewarded than another, nobody is closer to the infinite than another.

When we dare to believe in the connection with God already given, we can join in on Love freely given and seeking no reward.  When we do so we connect to an eternal movement that has been going on since God breathed over the waters of the earth.  May this movement shape our imagination this evening.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, October 5, 2013

Focus Text – Luke 17: 5-10 

 

Photo by Amy Mathom on flickr.com