Archives for the month of: April, 2014

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If the gospel of Matthew had ended just before tonight’s gospel, it would have been a different story.  We would walk away with the impression that the “powers that be” (Rome) clamped down on this threat to the status quo, with its brutal, and therefore intimidating, technology of crucifixion.  That’s what raw power does.  It seizes control.  It demands to be respected (or in Caesar’s case, even worshipped).  We know that there is more to the gospel though.  And we know that even when the “powers that be” hear this news, they will only see it as a tale to be dismissed.  Nothing new has happened.  Power is continually justifying itself: Caesar looks in the mirror and says like so many power hungry people before and since, “Seize control and expect everyone to give their lives to you, O Great One!”

When blind to our false biases, we see

This egomaniacal, narcissistic approach to life is blind.  It can’t see the new possibilities.  Let me give a graphic example of this kind of blindness.  Before blind auditions became common in the 70s, just 5% of musicians at top five U.S. orchestras were women. The theory was that women weren’t very good musicians. But labor unions protested the hiring process and pushed for blind auditions where musicians would try out behind a curtain so appearance and gender were concealed.   By 1997 it was 25%.  The screen increased their chances significantly at each round of selection.  So please notice; before blind auditions, interviewers were listening to these women play and the interviewer’s ability to appreciate what they were actually hearing was thwarted by a concept they had in their head about women.  (I know this comes as no surprise to women and to others who have witnessed a bias discounting their excellence.) 

I just use this as an example of a tenacious bias that affects the quality of life of countless people.  The bias for the folks at the time Matthew’s gospel was written is that Power owns the world and can do what it wants.  Whoever can get away with brutal and intimidating murders—wins and rules.  If you “know” this to be true, it is difficult to see the new possibilities.  Despite the excellent music that is right in front of you.  Or in this case, the person (Jesus) who was full of goodness who was right in front of them.   Caesar—or any dominator—simply cannot compare in attractiveness to the goodness—the God-ness—that was shining through Jesus at every turn; yet Caesar will be chosen every time.  Why?  Because people are biased to believe we need a dominator to get the job done! 

Seizing: control or love?

So, back to the gospel.  Two women, followers of Jesus, come to the tomb TO SEE (which in this gospel means “to understand’).  When they have an experience of Jesus as alive, we’re told that they “seized” him.  This is a whole different kind of seizing than when the guards seized Jesus three days earlier.  Let’s think about this.  There is a kind of seizing that happens when one person wants to control another—holding that person down by force, holding her as a hostage or slave or prisoner.  Then there is the kind of seizing that is a warm and tender hug or embrace, where neither the lover nor the loved wants the embrace to end quickly.  As a million songs have sung: “never let me go.”  A prisoner would not say that.  A slave would not say that.  A hostage would not say that.  Can you see, understand, the difference? 

Worshipping: out of fear or love?

For those who have eyes to hear, there is a whole different way of seizing that is real power.  Whoever masters this really should be our hero, not Caesar or his present day pretenders.  That is why the women, we are told, fall down and worship him.  You might think because of our traditional religious language, “Of course they worshipped him, he was God.  That’s what you do to a god, you worship him/her.”  Well, indeed John has a very deep appreciation of Jesus’s God-ness.  But that is not what is going on here.  The gospel without this final section would have told of a world where people would have gone on to “worship” Caesar out of fear because he was in control.  He demanded that people literally fall down in worship when he was around.   So the gospel is saying that these women had eyes to see.  They could see the New Leader, the awesome Teacher, who really should be fawned over like some rock star because he points out a way that really does work.  Love works.  Even when you lose your life loving.

Listen to the Voice that is deeper than that bias for powerful force

This tells us at least a couple of things.  Let’s let the sign of peace at every eucharist be a symbol for us of a different way of seizing.  Let us give up the need to control verses surrendering to the call to love.  And let’s not be afraid to express our admiration for the Christ, who is the mysterious guest at each of our gatherings.  He is worth getting excited over because he is pointing us toward a whole different way to see the world, embracing a way of love that is stronger than the powers of death.  Every time we enter this church we have a chance to decide whether to listen to the old inner bias for Caesar or to listen to the living One at the root of our being. 

Sts. Clare & Francis
Easter Vigil
April 19th, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 28:1-10 (The women “seized him and worshipped him.”)
Homily by Frank Krebs (with inspiration from Warren Carter’s Matthew and the Margins)

Photo by Darrell Lawrence on flickr.com

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The early church was stupefied by the bar that Jesus set for the rest of us.  Look at this scene.  First of all, he is acting like a common servant, rather than lording it over everyone.   He is addressing their needs.  In a world where the strong are always taking advantage of the weak, the important exercise their privileges over the marginalized—Jesus who is Teacher and Lord attends to their most basic needs like a simple servant.  But it gets better and better as the onion skin layers are peeled back on this one.

Secondly, not only was Jesus refusing to dominate, he was washing the feet of Peter, in whom he had invested so much and who was about to disown him to save his own hide.  Peter’s subsequent behavior was the opposite of “I’ve got your back,” which is what he promised to Jesus.  He was incapable of being his best self.  He caved.  And then Judas.  He was willing to make money off of Jesus’ capture.  Don’t you just want to step in the scene and say, “You total scum bag!  You are not worth the space you are taking up!”  But Jesus washed his feet!  Who can do this?  Who can love like this? 

Are We Supposed to Do This?

Then, it’s amazing enough that Jesus would be capable of this, but does he expect us to love like that?  Well, in fact, Jesus makes it clear in this painting by John that he is intentionally setting an example, a bar to be lived up to.  Whew!  Who can do this?  Paul in his letter to the Romans reflects on this bar (Romans 5:8).    Paul says he could understand dying for a good person, but giving your life for a certifiable scumbag? “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.”  Who could imitate this kind of love?  This is awesome that Jesus could do it, but how could I ever?!

Stage One

There was a Rwandan woman named Iphigenia from the Tutsi tribe (during the Rwandan genocide of 1994).  Her husband and five children were clubbed and hacked to death by Hutus, including one of her neighbors.  Her neighbor.  This convicted neighbor asked for forgiveness at a tribal court after seven years of imprisonment.  Stage one of moving toward the bar: Iphigenia opened her heart and extended forgiveness. 

Stages Two and Three

Iphigenia was a master weaver and later opened her heart wider and (stage two) taught this same neighbor’s wife how to weave baskets.  The two became friends and even business partners.

The reporter who recounted this story, Christiane Amanpour, tells the us that on the day Christiane went to interview Iphigenia, she had opened her heart even wider still—stage three.  Christiane witnessed her serving dinner to the husband of her business partner who had once brutally murdered her husband and children.  She was serving the way Jesus had served; and, like Jesus, she was serving the “undeserving.”

We Can’t Do This…Alone

When asked how she was able to forgive, she said, “I am a Christian, and I pray a lot.”  Part of our heritage as Christians is that we believe we are not alone when we assemble for the Eucharist.  There is always a Mysterious Guest in our assemblies who is in fact washing our feet when we least deserve it and modelling for us how it should be with us when we walk out of the assembly.  It is an impossible bar to reach for alone, but we are not alone in the task.  For those who want to learn the depths of love, follow him…and her.

Sts. Clare & Francis (Eucharist held at St. Stanislaus)
Holy Thursday, 2014
Focus text: John 13:1-35

Photo by John Ragai on flickr.com

[Audio Version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYnJoRaDLmM ]

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Because this story is so raw, I have a tendency to withdraw and consider Jesus’ suffering from afar. I put Jesus on a pedestal and become mere spectator to some cosmic drama between good and evil that only Jesus is involved in. I forget Jesus spent most of his ministry telling me who I am, telling me how to grow into that spark of divine life embedded in me. The passion narrative takes on a different meaning for me if I start with the question Who Am I?   What it is like to act out of this spark of divine life in the midst of the circumstances of life I find myself in? In this evening of many readings, let’s simply see what questions arise when we see how divine life embedded in human form behaves.

Tracing Authentic Life

Have you ever been loved and respected for superficial reasons? Have people waved palms at you because of what you hope you will do or be for them. Part of us loves this, and we sacrifice who we are to get more of it. The authentic part of us that is connected to the Ground of Being is unmoved. This part of us can ride a donkey and turn all this superficial energy into a prophetic sign of humility.

Have you ever been through a struggle and really needed your friends and family? Have you ever been vulnerable enough to specifically ask your loved ones for support and they could not deliver. Like the disciples in the garden your friends feel asleep when you needed them. The life in touch with the divine spark tells the truth to his friends but does not lash out. The authentic life does not pass on the injury.

Have you ever been betrayed? For love, for money, for a job? Have you ever had another deny you like Peter did? The authentic life receives the betrayal and the denial without violence, without judgment. The injury stops. It is not passed on.

Have you ever felt utterly forsaken, even by God? Have you ever felt like you have no control, you cannot fix it, you cannot explain it, you cannot understand it? At these times there is absolutely nothing to hide behind. Yet part of you is still there, part of you is real enough to name the feeling, part of you is not diminished, part of you knows to keep faithful. Part of you can still forgive knowing the haters do not know what they are doing. Part of you can still comfort the prisoner on the cross next to you by saying today you will be with me in paradise. Part of you will not project the pain of forsakenness onto others.

I, of course, cannot ask, have you ever died? Death is unfathomable. James Finley writes that the Cross is such a powerful image because death is something we do utterly alone. He says our family can hover around those last hours and even climb into bed with us. While we may treasure the love and comfort, when the moment of death comes we face it alone with no help and none of our stuff. The Cross stands as a monument to the truth that the moment of our greatest transformation to new life is the moment when our true self is our only self.

Who am I? May this Eucharist help us recognize that the same self that faces the unfathomable and the unknowable is here now in us, to transform how we live in the circumstances of life we find ourselves – to face good times and bad, false admiration, betrayal, forsakenness, joy, success and failure. May we help each other act more and more out of our Ground of Being in all the circumstances of daily life in which we find ourselves.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for Palm Sunday

Saturday Evening, April 12, 2014

Focus Text: The Passion According to Matthew

Photo by Miguel Ramirez on flickr.com

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What would it be like for the contemplative, unhurried, childlike, open mind to simply observe the process of a natural death?  Strange question, but a helpful one for us to understand tonight’s readings. 

Observing Natural Death

Talking ceases, eyes shut, arm and leg activity ceases until the person lies fairly still.  In this stillness what is perhaps most notable is the breathing.  In and out.  In and out.  Eventually the breathing stops.  Shortly thereafter the heart stops beating; the whole point of the heart is to move the oxygen around.  The “moment of death” begins with the last breath.

Decomposing

Now what happens next is different depending on the human culture.  In the US we typically do everything possible to avoid observing the next process.  We store the body at very cold temperatures; and then we embalm the body so that it is presentable as a body more or less frozen in time for viewing.  But were we to allow nature to take its course, the body would quite naturally decompose.  It would rot and eventually, over time, turn into a pile of organic matter—i.e., dirt.  This is the important point I wanted to get to.  When a person stops breathing, contemplatives have noticed I imagine for as long as humans have lived, the body decomposes. 

What Is This Breathing, And Where Did It Come From?

Where did this breath come from to begin with?  It is elemental for anyone who meditates and pays attention to their breathing that the breathing mechanism is not something we give ourselves.  It is an involuntary mechanism which begins immediately after birth and which ends at death.  Its operation is coterminous with our conscious lives before death.  So it is a kind of appropriate icon of our lives as coming from beyond us.  We do not bring ourselves into being.  So it is the Unsearchable Mystery, or whatever we may call it/her/him, that in some way fashions the dirt of this universe into a living, breathing human being.  The “dirt of this universe” is nothing less than the conglomeration of elements from exploding stars and the decomposition of all the life that preceded us, which lies on the surface of our Earth. 

The Divine Composer

So it is not so odd that the contemplatives who wrote creation narratives like we have in Genesis 1 and 2 would have made these observations and reflections.  And it is not so hard to imagine that this simple observation of nature became the seed for their creative expression of creation: (reversing the process) God takes dirt and gives it breath.

This can either be interpreted as a childlike rendition of “how it happened” in some literal way or it can be read as a creative celebration of how our lives are a gift from outside of ourselves.  And furthermore our lives are dependent not just for living but for thriving on this Other who continually gifts us with the ability to rise above the level of dirt. 

The Valley of the Dry Bones

The first reading tonight from Ezekiel offers an image of dry bones in a valley.  God, in Ezekiel’s prophetic vision, takes the elements of the earth and adds to the first muscle then skin to the bones.  But not until the breath is added do the compositions turn into human persons.  By the way if a body decomposes at death; it is composed at birth.  The elements are brought together for a creation by a Composer who is a mystery into which we could spend eternity delving.  By the way again, we might pause and notice that this image was meant not for one person but for the people of Israel.  We might ask, “What ‘gives breath’ to a community?”  If breathing keeps a body from decomposing, what keeps a community from decomposing?  [I’ll leave that there for tonight.]

The “Flesh” and the “Spirit”

The second reading from Paul talks about the difference between “flesh” and “spirit.”  Here we go again.  The word for spirit in Greek and Hebrew is the same word for breath.  It is the life principle which is given freely.  Paul is not encouraging us to despise our bodies compared to our “spiritual selves,” as countless Christians have distorted over time.  Paul is encouraging us to see that the level of dirt is not the same as the level of breath-holding-the-dirt-together-in-the-miracle-of-life.  And he uses this as a metaphor for rising above whatever is not our best self.  That is, he calls us to live at the level of the One who is gifting us with our lives to begin with. 

Called Away From Death

The gospel reading from John pictures Jesus calling forth Lazarus (and us) from a life that has “gone asleep” (losing consciousness of God) and is starting to have the stench of death.  Jesus calls, “Come out!”  Come out of that lower form of living that is really not living at all.  Living in the conscious awareness of God’s presence is life that is worth living.  This communion with God, this sharing of a Spirit (breath) that we cannot give ourselves, is what holds our “better selves” together. 

A Weekly Occurrence

When we gather for the Eucharist each week, we believe that Christ is present and calling us to “come out!”  Then as the gospel painting details, Jesus says to our brothers and sisters, “Unbind him/her.”  The community plays a role in helping each other move beyond the sleepy, stinky world of trying to live our lives apart from the Generous Source.

Sts. Clare & Francis
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Saturday, April 6, 2014
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (focused on)
Romans 8:6-11 (focused on)
John 11:1-45 (focused on)
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Dennis Larson on flickr.com

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I grew up in a family of seven: mother, dad, grandpa Miles (mother’s dad), and four children. The oldest was my brother, and I am the middle of three girls. It was a busy household with all the usual duties for the family. One by one we became old enough to run errands. Fish to pick up every Friday, stamps from the Post Office, time for more milk. But you didn’t “go” for stamps or whatever. You were sent. My mother would call you, or come to you, look you in the eyes and gently say, “I am sending you . . .” No gold star Sister glued to my collar, no pin, no ribbon, nothing equaled this recognition. Being “sent” flowed from a relationship, and it meant a new role in the family.

Being “sent” meant:

–you are empowered by instruction–

–you are reliable; you will do your best–

–you represent the one who sent you, the other, the family, mother–

I tingle when I think of the first time I was “sent” on an errand by my mother. She looked in my eyes and softly said, “I am sending you to Mrs. Enderly. This is for her.” She handed a small bag to me. Well, I was sooo excited. I was running an errand for my mother! Now the Mertens lived next door, and Mrs. Enderly lived next to the Mertens. I was going exactly two houses down our block. But, I was running an errand. Me. I remember coming home, just standing in front of her, her smile, her embrace. There was unspoken praise, a lesson singing in my heart about what it meant to be part of my family.

Consider today’s text through the lens of that verb, i.e., to send.

First of all, John’s Gospel begins with a famous prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God . . .” The whole Gospel is about that “Word” because that is the One who is sent. This Word, this One, brings the Law of Love, the Light of the World, the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, the New Creation.

Today we pick up the text when Jesus is fleeing from an argument with religious leaders, which he lost. They shouted insults at him while they picked up stones to throw at him. So, we read he is walking along. I would be stomping along, pounding out every syllable of my flawlessly correct point-of-view. Not Jesus. He notices a blind man. Imagine his followers: “He just escaped with his skin, and now he’s going over to a blind man. He’s clueless. ‘Hey, Jesus, is this because of his sins or his parents’?’ NO! ‘that God’s works might be revealed in him.’ ‘God’s works’. Well, this should be clean and regal.”

Have a Genesis flashback. Jesus scoops up the yuck of this world and stirs his very own being, his saliva, into it. Molds two mud pies, and puts them on the blind man’s eyes. This is the New Creation. What does Jesus say to him? Go? Not really. John uses a Greek verb that is much stronger: to send. In the Greek, Jesus says: “I am sending you to Siloam to wash.”

The man is cured; he sees. Heated emotions fill the air: controversy, confusion, rejection, avoidance. Concerns. Pharisees: rank, authority, income, relationship with the Romans. Parents: life depends on your community; you need people helping one another in order to survive; exile is slow death; maybe he could go to his cousins for a long visit.

The sighted man wanders around slowly realizing what has happened.

Again Jesus seeks him. They visit. The sighted man shares his wondering, and his faith ripens gradually. Jesus identifies himself with simple statement: “I am he.” Picture the two of them standing there, eye-to-eye. Imagine the love Jesus brands on the man’s soul. Everything in the man yields to Jesus: “I believe.” This is the main miracle. The cure is secondary to the flow of power. This is a sacramental act that effects, or causes, the truth to be present, grace, divine presence.

And the healing miracle continues. The sighted man says: “I worship you.” Worship. Worshipping Jesus involves going forth in your life to make God’s love known. Now the miracle is complete.

The One Who is Sent now sends the sighted man forth to make God’s works known. 

When we gather around the altar today, wearing the mud pies of our souls, may we believe; may we go forth to make God’s love known.

Amen

Rev. Kay Schmitt

Photo by Gates Foundation on flickr.com

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I heard about a single mother who went on a camping trip to get her head/heart straight while she was preparing for her daughter’s wedding.  She unexpectedly met a man who was also camping.  They are now getting married, and she is moving to another state.  Just like that.  Her life was changed.  You can imagine the conversation if her daughter later asked something like, “Did you think anything more about how we’re going to do the place cards while you were away?”

The Woman at the Well

Now let’s think about this woman in the gospel, who also wanted to be alone.  She goes to fetch water at a time when the other women of the village are not there.  Hmmmm.  Why?  Let’s think about this.  Is she embarrassed because of her series of failed marriages?  Rejected?  Do the other women hate her because it is a small town and she has already lived with 5 of the men and is on her 6th?

Who Is This?

So she goes to the well at a time when she can be alone, and a new man comes along.  He is thirsty and she has water.  She is thirsty to…for something he has.  Something is brewing here.  Jesus, in the experience of the early church, was often thought of as the Bridegroom.  Our souls desire to be made whole by the Other.  When we meet this soul-mate, we stir to life in a way that takes us by surprise.

All of a Sudden, Only One Thing Is Important

She is so excited that she forgets her water jug—that is why she was there, she thought, and she completely forgets about the water.  Just like the woman who thought that camping was about de-stressing before a wedding and who may have forgotten about those place cards.  But more profoundly she then forgets, not just her jug, but “herself”: herself as defined by the shame of her life, the shame of alienation from her former spouses and the other women of the village.  Why do we know this?  Because she starts interacting with all these people she has been avoiding.  Something more important is driving her choices.  This John’s community is telling us is the “big divine distraction” that takes her attention away from what she thought her life was really about.

Seeing God

And this is how it is.  We recognize that the experience we are having is looking at the “face of God.”  That is to say, just like looking at a face reveals the soul of a person, in looking at this situation, we see the Living Mystery peeking through.  Think of the face on a dead body.  Think of the difference when it is animated.  That is the difference when we are looking at any situation and it seems dead and lifeless.  And then in an instant we see it as the “face of God” with all the attractive life that is there to be engaged with.  It is the experience of the veil being lifted.

Does God Need Our Human Traditions?

Notice too that Jesus is a Jew and she is not.  And notice how it doesn’t matter once this veil is lifted.  Let’s pause here and milk this.  Some people have said to me, “Since there are so many different religions, how do I know which one if any is true.  That is why I have stopped going to church or synagogue or whatever.”  My response is, “If you find out that there are many wonderful cuisines in the world, do you similarly stop eating?”

The elements of our tradition are simply meant to occasion an experience of God, which cannot be dependent on our tradition; we know this because God is everywhere engaging with all God’s creatures all the time.  But these are flash points, what Gerard Manley Hopkins refers to when he says, “The earth is charged with the grandeur of God, it flashes out like the shining of shook foil…”  These flash points are break-throughs that tell us of the Divine Presence.  Traditions which occasion more opportunities are ways to make communing with God a weekly experience rather than a 6 times a lifetime experience.

All of this is to say that the chance meeting with the Bridegroom, our soul mate, can be a weekly experience if we allow it to be.

Sts. Clare & Francis
Third Sunday of Lent
Saturday, April 22, 2014
Exodus 17:1-7
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42 (focus text)
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Anil Gulati on flickr.com