Sunday, October 8, 2017

What We Plant: 27th Sunday OT

This is the third consecutive Sunday we’ve heard Jesus tell a story about a vineyard. They make a powerful trilogy and I think of them like a classic boxing combo. Jab. Jab. Today, the haymaker.

One beautiful thing about the three-year lectionary cycle is you get the chance to look at things a little differently as they keep coming around. You can pick different angles. And something really stood out to me from the second reading, from Philippians 4, “Finally, brethren, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.”

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Getting Behind Him: 22nd Sunday OT

If you took a piece of paper and started a list titled “things I offer to God,” what would you write down? Give that a second’s thought, or just mull it over in the background, while we take a look at Jeremiah. We’re in the 20th chapter, and you can tell that Jeremiah is fed up. “You duped me, O Lord.” You might call this venting… it’s one of those prayers that isn’t pretty but it is honest. Well, fine. We should never be afraid to be honest with God. What we’re feeling might not be good, we might need to ask for healing and conversion about it, but there’s no point in pretending. Give God the real you. And right now the real Jeremiah is frustrated and angry and tired.

Read his book and you’ll understand. He’s had a hard time. Working for God has not been a cush job. It’s been brutal. It’s been costly. It’s been big sacrifices for what seem like little or no results. Don’t make the mistake of imagining the Prophet as some kind of superhuman who can handle all this with perfect composure. Imagine how you’d feel if every time you went out in public in these small towns, you could hear people laughing as you went by, making fun of you, scoffing and judging you. Jeremiah says “the Word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” Let’s just assume he enjoys that about as much as we would.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Silence, Rejection, and Faith: 20th Sunday OT

The woman got what she wanted, and Jesus praised her very highly for her faith. Why the tortuous path to get there? Why the hard words, and repeated slights? I can’t 100% explain this conversation, but whatever Jesus did, he had good reasons for, and meant for some good to come of it. So maybe we can approach this tricky passage by asking what good does come from it?

There are lots of answers to that, but my favorite is the spiritual example and lessons that she gives us, and every other Christian until Jesus returns. Jesus praises her faith, so let’s let her be our teacher.

One way we can learn from her is to put ourselves in her place. Imagine yourself as her in this story. It shouldn’t be hard to do, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced everything she experiences.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Weight: 14th OT 2017

My friend Chris went to Lourdes with a pilgrimage group. Being a man of notable and apparent strength, Chris naturally ended up as the go-to pusher of a wheelchair for another pilgrim, a nun. He served happily, but Sister was a hefty woman and Lourdes is a hilly place. The moment came when she was pointing
up at a church waaaaaay up a huge steep hill, and he was thinking, “there’s no way.” So he grabbed a few even younger guys, like high-school age, and had a little conference. He asked them, “I don’t want to make Sister feel self-conscious, but I’m really going to need some help getting her up there. You guys look like you’re in shape?” They said, yeah, they lift weights and spot each other all the time. He said, “great, we’ll do it like that. When I give you the signal, just help me out, just like in the gym.” So up the hill they started. He did pretty well. Got most of the way. Then, starting to give out, he silently mouthed to the guys, “help!” And they nodded enthusiastically, and got on each side of him, and started shouting into his ears: “Come on! Push! You can do it! You’ve got this!” All the way up the hill.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ascension 2017

The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, also by Luke, are sort of a two-volume story. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus from his birth to his Resurrection. Then Acts of the Apostles takes over and tells the story of what happened next.

The Church happened next. After Jesus ascended into heaven, Luke tells all about the coming of the Holy Spirit and everything that followed. The preaching of the Apostles and the spread of their message throughout the world. The debates and conflicts that had to be worked through right from the beginning. The appointment of more leaders in the role of the Apostles, like Matthias and Paul, continuing the Apostolic ministry. And the coming of Jews and Gentiles to believe in the name of Jesus, ready to serve Him by life or by death.

Trinity Sunday 2017

There are moments - when you’re making a friend, or maybe in the early stages of a relationship - there are these moments when you share something that’s really important to you. Because you want to be known. You’ll never feel close to anyone if you don’t feel like they really know you. Maybe you're sharing something profound and huge, like a trauma from the past or a secret you carry. Or maybe it's something really simple, like playing a song a movie that’s really important to you, that you feel really expresses something about who you are.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter 2017

Life is beautiful. It speaks of God in every sunrise and every raindrop and every breeze. Life is good. Love is good. God’s fingerprints are all over it.

And yet, with Good Friday still seared in our minds, we can’t deny… it hurts so much. To begin with, there’s the baseline brokenness; we want things we can’t have, and sometimes we get what we thought we wanted and we still aren’t satisfied. Sometimes we don’t even know what we want. We just know it’s… more.

And that’s just the background noise, the everyday brokenness of the human heart. Punctuating it are the true sorrows: the truly crushing losses and disappointments. And the end and ultimate of these is death. It’s the ultimate affront to us because it’s the ultimate affront to love. Our hearts were made for forever. We use the word all the time when we talk about love, despite the obvious glaring fact that we don’t get forever… at least not here.

Holy Thursday 2017

Before a word was written by Mark, or Luke, or Matthew, or John, or even Paul, before Peter set foot in Rome for the first time, before anyone had counted up seven Sacraments or fourteen Stations, before even the word “Christian” had been invented, they did this. Long before it was called the Mass. Before the prayers were honed and perfected, before the hymnody was grown. They did it because He had told them to. If your beloved friend - not to mention Lord and God - tells you with almost His last words to “do this in memory of me,” you’re going to do it.

Acts 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

It was one of the pillars of their life together. Looking to the other Scriptures (John 6, Luke 24, 1 Corinthians 11), we can say it was the pillar of the life of Christians, before they were even called Christians. They obeyed His command. They did it in memory of Him. And like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.
Rembrandt, Supper at Emmaus

Sunday, April 9, 2017

For Glory: 5th Sunday Lent 2017

Yesterday we had a confirmation retreat over in Eldorado. The retreat team were a young crew of college age, and several of them had opportunities to share their own witness about God’s power in their lives. Now, I’ve known some of these kids for awhile, and I know that they could have told some impressive stories. Athletic and academic success, some modeling in one case, they’re the kind of kids who seem to have everything going for them. But in every single case, when they stood up to talk about God’s power in their lives, they talked about their lowest times. They didn’t talk about their strengths and successes and the best days of their lives. They talked about the hardest, most painful, worst times in their lives. And that’s no surprise.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lucky you: 4th Sunday OT 2017

Let's ease into this, easy question. Maybe the easiest question you've ever been asked: Do you want to be happy? Assumptions are dangerous, but I’m going to go ahead and assume I know the answer to that one.

Can you tell me how?

It’s a big business.  Go to the bookstore and find the self-help section.  It’ll be a big section.  There will be dozens of books explaining how to be happy.  Some of the advice is achingly obvious.  Some of it is very, very strange.  There’s a long line of people ready to tell us their secret... read my book, follow my advice, and you’ll be happy!  

If it’s so easy, then why are there so many unhappy people around?

A priest friend up in Chicago posted a question on social media just today: “Complete this sentence: ‘I will be happy when…’” It was a really interesting exercise! The first response was “I will be happy when our parochial school stays open.” One woman said “I will be happy when I retire.” Another, “I will be happy when I’m with God.” More than one said “I will be happy when the world is at peace.” Only two answers out of nineteen said they were currently happy. Of those two, one said their happiness came from knowing the Lord.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

500 years of 95 Theses: 3rd Sunday OT

Paul wrote two long letters to the Corinthians; he clearly has a lot to say to them. But the very first thing he chooses to focus on - after some greetings and encouragement - the first thing Paul wants to write about is division within the Corinthian church. He’s just out of the gate, and he’s worked up, and he’s calling them out. “You have these slogans: ‘I am for Paul,’ ‘I am for Apollos,’ ‘I am for Cephas,’ ‘I am for Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

I think you could pick any time and place in the history of the Church, and Paul could call us out on this very same thing. Staying together, staying united, is one of the hardest things the Gospel demands. It doesn’t sound like it should be, but I think history proves that it is.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Dreams and Our Nightmares: 2nd Sunday OT

I’ve been thinking about Carl Sagan. Some of you will remember him, sort of the celebrity scientist of his day, writer and great popularizer of science in the wider culture. A bit before my time but I met him in books. Sagan was famously agnostic, but in a much more thoughtful and wise way than the blowhards who seem to get all the attention today. He thought a lot about the sort of things we call spiritual.

Maybe one of the reasons he came to mind is last week’s feast of Epiphany.  Those wise and learned men did not have the light of God’s revelation to Israel, but they did have the light of the star sent to them. It’s my hope that like those ancient astronomers, this more recent magus, so captivated and obsessed with the light of the stars, found the same unexpected and eternally surprising salvation at journey’s end.

Sagan would be so annoyed by my suggestion:
that he was far more right than he knew.

Sagan’s most popular book is his only work of fiction, and he poured his spirit into the novel Contact (you might also have seen the Jodie Foster movie). And that’s the other reason he’s come to mind right now. Not believing in God, the most transcendental and transformative thing he could imagine happening to humanity was contact with an alien civilization… the discovery that we aren’t alone. In the novel, we get to hear an alien’s take on humanity:
“You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Keep Looking Up: Epiphany 2017

Only Matthew tells their story, and he tells almost none of it. People are sometimes surprised to learn that the Bible doesn’t actually say most of what they think they know about the Three Kings. Like, for example, that there were three of them. Or that they were Kings. Matthew does say that they came from the East following a star.

I just keep thinking about that star. It’s always been fascinating to people. Astronomers have scoured the records and charts to see if they can find some trace of it in a supernova or some other astronomic event. Historians have looked for other reports from that time period that might give a clue. But that sort of thing is less interesting to me — because even pinpointing some supernova that everyone saw just wouldn’t go very far at all in explaining the journey of the Magi. I’ve seen unusual and surprising things in the sky before. None of them ever made me say, “I’d better get a few friends and pack some bags and start walking westbound until I get some signal from the universe that it’s time to stop. And I’d better take some frankincense. Just in case.”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of Mary 2017

There are two main reasons people find it difficult to approach and honor and develop a great spiritual relationship with Mary. They are two mistakes, and they’re both mistakes about Jesus.