Archives for the month of: May, 2014

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Did you ever grow tomatoes from seed? The little green shoot pops through the soil; the vine grows and you tie it to a supporting stick; the yellow flowers bloom and form green bulbs that form green tomatoes (no yellow flowers, no tomatoes), at last the big red tomatoes. We love them. Henry planted seeds for eight or ten tomato plants every year. One summer the weather was perfect for a plentiful crop from our little garden. On a beautiful morning I was up stairs with all the window open, “watching” little William and Amy by listening to their happy play while I did regular housekeeping duties. Suddenly they are coming up stairs, right to me, ready to perform their rehearsed routine. Simultaneously: “We love you, mommy” and they present my largest tray, which happened to have sides, full of a heap of ALL of the yellow tomato flowers. What could I say to those faces so radiant with love? “I love you, too.” Clueless, absolutely clueless, but full of love.

I appreciate today’s text all the more because of that tomato flower story in my life.

Jesus gathers the disciples he loves, all children of God just as we are, friends who love him. They struggle to understand, but they do love him. He assures them of dwelling places with the Father; that he will take them there; that they know the Father because they know him. Their clueless response frustrates him, but he gathers them into his loving, forgiving heart. He tells them about the life they are to live now: “do the works that I do, in fact, greater works than these.” Their work is to go out into the community, spreading that message of loving, healing forgiveness to the ends of the earth, and in every age. That’s us, folks, this is the work we are to do. Forgiveness is mandatory if we want to connect with God in one another.

Henri Nouwen says that in her compassion God links her children to herself, becoming dependent upon her children, whom she has gifted with freedom. As such, how can we be an effective Christian community that continues Jesus’ work? Nouwen offers a process which is tough but simple, IF you follow directions. First step, fall in love with God. Be totally open to receiving God’s love. Throw the door to your heart and soul wide open, hinges and all. Fall back; let God fill you. God loves to love you; that’s what God does. This is God’s work, all by himself/herself. Welcome it; that’s your part.

Secondly, you are required to sincerely pray for and wish for the best for those who hurt you. Test that love and your sense of community with that line Jesus taught us: “as we forgive those who trespass against us”. How are you doing? Is that the line you say the fastest?

Nouwen describes forgiveness meaning that I am continually willing to forgive the other person for not being God — for not fulfilling my needs, my delight. I too must ask forgiveness for not being able to fulfill the needs or delights of other people. I forgive you since you can love me only in a limited way. I can love you only in a limited way.

Now you are prepared to participate in the two required elements in a common, ordinary Christian community, forgiveness and celebration. Forgiveness? Check. Ordinary people? Check. Ordinary day? Check. Really?

Let me tell a story on myself. Two friends of mine from Boston flew here to spend a few days with me before we would drive to the Y of the Rockies for a national ECC retreat. We enjoy each other; we hold a lot in common; we truly looked forward to all this time together. While we were packing the car for the drive to Denver, my one friend says, “I can’t wait to see Kansas. I really want to see Kansas.” KANSAS? The woman lives in the midst of renowned universities, major national historic sites, highly praised museums, and I happen to know that she loves to watch the rowers (the crew teams) on the St. Charles River! Faster than a blink, the other one says, “That’s when I sleep in the back seat.” Of course, I am the driver as we cross the Kansas state line so my dear friend can strain forward to look out the left window and over to the right window. OOing and AHing in amazement and appreciation. She goes on and on; I drive mile after flat mile. I am soooo frustrated, annoyed, and aggravated that I say, “You’ve seen Kansas now. Feel free to put your seat back, shut your eyes, get some rest.” Silence. Then she says, in her usual gentle voice, “You know the Native American people say that as you treat your land, so you will treat your people.” I have hurt her. Mea culpa. I say, “I’m sorry.”

Forgiveness becomes the word for love in the human context. Not one of us has two identical eye lashes, or two identical toes. How can we expect one another to have the same preferences, opinions, mannerisms, etc.?
God teaches us diversity in harmony. Indeed, forgiveness is mandated if we want to connect with God in one another.

When we gather around the Table to prepare to receive the Eucharist, let us be especially mindful of that moment in prayer when we commit to “forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.

Sts. Clare & Francis
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Homily by Kay Schmitt

Photo by Tara Severns on flickr.com

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It is on the road to Emmaus that Jesus reminds his disciples that he is still with them on their journey, and in the same way he accompanied his friends he continues to accompany us and calls us to accompany one another.

To set the scene, we need to remember that the two disciples were in mourning. They had just experienced their friend and teacher be brutally murdered. This in and of itself was a tragedy. Now there were reports that the body is missing from the tomb. They didn’t know what to think. Have you ever had an idea in your mind about how things were going to turn out, and then what you were hoping and planning on didn’t work out? Or maybe you had an idea about a person or a group of people, and then something happened that made you question what you previously believed? This is the situation these two men are emerging from. All of the hopes and the ideas they had about who Jesus was and what he was going to do were seemingly cut short with his death on the cross, and now they didn’t know what to think or believe. They feel lost and confused. And it is while they are walking together, grieving and trying to make sense of recent events that we hear in the Gospel today that Jesus himself drew near, and walked with them.

Jesus chooses to accompany his disciples. Maybe your familiar with accompaniment, and maybe not. Accompaniment isn’t about fixing, or serving, or making better, or being right. Accompaniment is about walking with someone, joining them on their journey. Accompaniment is the gift of presence. Now I am a white Catholic female raised in the U.S. These intersecting identities told me growing up that I was in many ways both better and better off than those who were poor, those who were a different race than myself, and those who were from “third world countries.” I was encouraged to use my privilege to serve others, to give back and help those less fortunate than me, but it was always a model of assuming I was the only one with something to give, the only one with something of value to offer in the relationship.

I knew little about accompaniment until I left the context of my country and culture and traveled to one of these so called “third world countries” namely: El Salvador. There the emphasis wasn’t on a project or some particular work to be done, but on just really being with the people. I walked with them, listened to their stories, and learned from them, and that was the most important thing that I could have done. I gave them my presence and they gave me theirs. And in walking together and listening to their stories, the great horrors and great joys they had experienced, I could feel my own heart burning inside me and knew that this was sacred space and time.

This is the same work we are called to as a community of faith: to truly accompany one another, through our sorrows and celebrations. To really be present, to listen, and to know that we are the Body of Christ accompanying one another on the journey.

Jesus models in this story, that when we accompany our first responsibility is to be present and to listen. The first two sentences Jesus speaks, are questions: “What are you discussing?” and “What sort of things?” While Jesus already knows the answers to these questions, what he is doing is creating the space for the disciples to tell their story and share what they are feeling: their grief, disappointment, and confusion. It is only after first listening to the other, that Jesus then speaks his own truth, and interprets the Scriptures so that they can understand and see with new eyes the tragic events of the past days.

It is because they had first been accompanied and listened to, that they can then receive the words of Jesus as he breaks open Scripture for them in a new way. And they have a physical reaction to what is occurring. While they still can’t recognize Jesus for who he is, they can feel a movement within them that is reacting to the power, love, and truth of the message being received. Perhaps you can remember a time when you listened to a speech or maybe were visiting another church and were listening to the homily, where you just really didn’t have much of a reaction? Maybe you tuned out halfway through or left feeling like whatever was said didn’t really resonate with you? One reason I think we have such amazing homilies here at SCF is because we do the day in and day out work of accompanying one another. We can speak from a different place, and be heard in a different way, when there is a relationship of love, trust, and compassion that has already been established. And its not just in Saturday homilies, but in the everyday work of meetings, convocations, visiting the sick and home bound, that we have the opportunity and responsibility to accompany and share our good news with others.

It isn’t until the disciples reach Emmaus, and sit down at the end of their journey for a meal, that they finally realize that it is Christ himself who has been accompanying them on their journey. It is when they stop moving, and just sit down to share a meal that their eyes are opened and they recognize him. We can be a lot like that too, too distracted or rushed in our daily lives to recognize the divine presence in the ones we journey with, who accompany us and whom we accompany. But when we gather around this table together each week, when we can slow down and focus enough on what is going on in the present moment, we realize that we are not alone, that God is not dead but very much alive and at work in the world. As we recognize and celebrate Christ’s presence in the body and blood of the Eucharist we also recognize Christ’s presence in the body and blood of those gathered around us. Dwelling in the present moment, I can look around this sacred space we create together and feel my own heart burning with overwhelming love and gratitude because I know the joys and struggles of the ones who are gathered with me, and I can feel the spirit of God alive and at work within us.

So as we prepare to gather around this table tonight, to celebrate this Sacrament that Christ gave us to open our eyes to his presence in our world may we slow down enough to be aware of how our own hearts burn inside us, and may we continue to accompany and care for one another as the Body of Christ alive and at work in our world.

Sts. Clare & Francis
Third Sunday of Easter
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Acts 2:14, 22-33
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35 (focus text)
Homily by Jennifer Reyes Lay

Photo by Seniju on flickr.com

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The Irish theologian Peter Rollins has a recent book out entitled “Insurrection: To Believe is Human, To Doubt is Divine.” To doubt is divine? His point is that if we imagine the spiritual journey as primarily being about assenting to the right beliefs and doctrines, then doubting can be deadly. But if we see the journey as a radical encounter with God, then humble doubting helps make sure our thoughts of God do not keep us from God.

As I grew up in the Catholic tradition, the apostle Thomas was called “Doubting Thomas” and it was not a complement. If we consider Thomas’ story in light of the distinctions Rollins is making, a whole different story emerges. Let’s see if this picture can awaken us this evening.

Thomas Loves Reality 

If we look at earlier references to Thomas in the gospel we would see he is a person of substance. He comes across as very honest and real. Earlier in the gospel Jesus is talking about going to Jerusalem where the leaders are who have threatened Him. While other disciples were rebuking Jesus for talking like this, Thomas sees what is really going on and expresses total commitment: “Let us go and die with him.” Later Jesus talks about going away and saying the disciples will follow later and Thomas has the courage to ask the tough question “If you do not tell us where you are going how will we know the way?” This blunt realism is seen again in our text today: Thomas is not going to take anyone’s word for it that Jesus is risen. He wants to see for himself. But he is not going anywhere. He is committed.

Being a person that wants to experience reality for himself is scary for a church that wants us to take their word for it. I think this explains the negative vibe toward Thomas. The text itself, however, suggests Thomas is a model disciple. Thomas is real and honest, not in his head – he wants to experience Jesus, to literally touch Him. He wants his own personal story of encounter with Jesus, not just assent or agreement with someone else’s story. We know this is what we should want as well, because the text gives Thomas the Mount Everest line of the whole gospel, the line we have been waiting the whole gospel for someone to say to Jesus: “My Lord and My God! Blest are we when we come to the same experience without the same physical encounter Thomas was able to have.

Blessed Doubt

Not all doubt is divine. Sometimes we use doubt to avoid reality. I was having dinner with three clients a few weeks ago that I have known for several years. They know of my interest in theology so sometimes God pops up in conversation. Near the end of dinner Nancy offered that she avoided religion these days because she could not imagine a God who would allow all the pain in the world. This was said in a way that did not invite conversation, however, I had the strongest urge to ask a question that had never occurred to me before. Rather than debate God, I wanted to ask “Let’s put God aside for a moment. I would be much more interested to talk about what you believe about yourself. This is something you have real information on. What do you believe about you? Have you experienced the Creator, the Ground of Being in you?”

Doubt is divine, however, when it puts me in a posture for encounter. All the spiritual traditions encourage us to get out of our heads to a place of “no mind.” Thomas was not theorizing about the resurrection in his head. He was not worried about how Jesus came through the locked door, how Jesus came back to life, why his wounds were still visible or what happens next. No, he was focused on the deep knowing though encounter. The path to encounter is quieting the mind, observing but not running with stray thoughts, becoming aware of touch and breath and entering God’s presence in the now. Doubt that puts the mind in a servant’s role is divine.

My confirmation name is Thomas. I picked this name because as I went through confirmation with my class I was not into it. I doubted, but it would have been embarrassing to say so. That is why I picked the name Thomas. Now I see Thomas as someone of honesty and reality, who wanted to connect with God. He challenges me now because I am SO comfortable in my head. I do not need to read another book on prayer, I need to pray. I do not need another book on social justice, I need to be more just.

One of our slogans here is “All Are Welcome.” I suggest we add “Doubters In Particular!” Come one, come all. Let’s be honest together, let’s be real together, let’s find “no mind” together in prayer. Let’s practice having our minds be servants, not masters, of our spiritual journey and then tell each other our stories of awakening and encounter.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

Saturday Evening, April 26, 2014

Focus text: John 20: 19-31 (“Doubting Thomas”)    

Photo from peterrollins.net