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Monthly Archives: March 2017

FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

1-13As we did last week, we are reading today from the Gospel of John.

There are all kinds of things that can be said about this story of The Man Who Was Born Blind: things about sin, about blindness both literal and metaphorical, about miracles, about how societies divide themselves, the barriers we erect for those not just like us and so on. He is an outcast. He is forced by the rules of society to live on the margins of society.

Yet, the most fundamental purpose of the story as it works in John’s gospel is to illuminate, the essence of who Jesus is. The revelation comes from his own mouth: “I Am the light of the world.” John has already told us this “in the beginning.” And we need always to remind ourselves that whenever Jesus utters the words, “I Am,” we are meant to recall that sacred moment of self-revelation at the Burning Bush when Moses is being given a task and asks, “Who shall I say sent me?” The voice from the bush replies, “I Am who I Am…you shall say…I Am sent me to you.” (Ex 3:14)

The very first word God utters in creation is, “Light!” Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” This story sheds light on just what that means. And what it means is justice for all people and the need to respect the dignity of every human being.

The Jesus in John seeks to shed light on all sorts and conditions of humankind – and the artificial and often arbitrary ways in which we treat others – especially others who are not at all like ourselves.

The Man Born Blind is a figure cast into a lifetime of darkness – he must be a beggar on the streets. What he says carries no weight.

Even Jesus’ own disciples believe The Man is Blind because of his own or his parents’ sin. Note that the man does not seek to be healed. He is so marginalized that he does not even have a name. After Jesus restores the man’s sight, he seeks to shed light on what real sin exists in the world.

For the man is not a victim of his own sin or that of his parents. Rather he is the victim of an entrenched system of fear that declares some people unclean. We watch and we listen as all those people expected to support the Man Born Blind just step away. His parents disown him. The Pharisees chastise him. The neighbours pretend he is not the same man. The Man Born Blind becomes not only his own advocate, but he defends Jesus against all criticism as now he is lecturing the Pharisees, the doctors of the law of Moses.

He whose being has had no standing whatsoever in the community when the story begins is now the one who is exhorting them, the arbiters of society and religion to “see” -to see the Light of the World – The Word that was with God and is God.

The miracle is not that the man can see. The scandal is not that the Sabbath has been broken. The miracle in one part is the fact that Jesus is the Light of the World that can turn the darkness of blindness and the darkness rejection and persecution of the world into light.

But more than that, this story is meant to demonstrate that we can be people of that light. We can turn darkness into light. Just as Jesus changed the life of the Samaritan woman (John 4) by giving her dignity, by giving her purpose, by giving her a new identity, by asking her to do something for him – give him a drink – so the Man Born Blind is given a new lease on life.

Anyone, the neighbours, his parents, the Pharisees, whomever, could have granted The Man Born Blind more purpose in life, made him a more integral part of the community, rather than writing him off as an outcast. Jesus is the one who says, “There is something you can do for me.” The woman becomes the first evangelist. The Man Born Blind becomes a vocal advocate for God and a defender of Jesus The Light of the World! He now dares to step beyond the barriers the others created for him.
If the Samaritan Woman at the Well, and The Man Born Blind can do God’s work so effectively, what are we being called to do? What barriers are we willing to break down so that people like the woman, and the man can be granted personhood? How can we become advocates for inclusion rather than exclusion?

How willing are we to begin to see as God sees? Or will we, like the Pharisees, stubbornly resist any challenge to our views, saying ‘Surely, we are not blind, are we?’ In the light of our gospel today on Jesus ‘the Light of the World’, surely, we would want to keep saying to him: ‘Lord Jesus, how much blindness is there still left in me? How much selfishness do I still display? How much insensitivity remains in me, how much prejudice, how much self-righteousness, hypocrisy, pride, and how much meanness and nastiness? Lord Jesus, just how many blind spots do I have?’ Lent is a great time for us to concentrate, to focus on our vision of reality and its truth, and to sharpen our eyesight through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT

1-10On this Sunday and the next two Sundays, we break from reading the Gospel of Matthew to read from John’s Gospel. The Gospel of John is the only Gospel not assigned to a particular liturgical year. Instead, readings from John’s Gospel are interspersed throughout our three-year liturgical cycle.

The encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well is the focus. How did we come to know this story since no newspaper, video recordings, or the like existed in the first century? A clue comes at the end of the passage: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.” After the conversation, the Samaritan woman becomes a disciple. Even though she is an outcast and not a Jew, she returns to her town to lead others to Jesus and to wonder whether she has found the Messiah.

Like these Samaritans, we know all we can know about the earthly Jesus because people like the disciples and the woman at the well told others about their face to face involvement with the one we call Christ. Those whom they told also told others who told others, and so on down the centuries until the story came to us. The passing of the Good News from one generation to another links us to the Jesus of history.

So, we are linked to Jesus and the early church through word and sacrament carried across 2,000 years of actions. But there is more to this connection with Christ – more of a fundamentally personal nature, as St. Paul illustrates.

We cannot know Jesus the way the disciples and woman at the well did. We can, however, know and experience the risen Christ as Paul experienced him. He never met Jesus in the flesh, yet he is the primary teacher of the fact that we can know Christ just as certainly as the disciples, but in a non-physical way. Knowing the risen Christ through the passed-down story of Jesus is most effective if we, too, come to know Christ as alive within us and among us.

Today’s portion of the Second Reading helps us understand this – as Paul begins by stating, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God.” Peace in this context means unity with God that we gain through “our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a unity of God with us and us with all people – rightful relationships in God’s over-arching presence.

For Paul and the early church, the key to understanding God’s love and forgiveness was revealed by Jesus’ death on the cross. The proof of God’s love is Christ’s complete obedience to God. Dying on the cross, Jesus forgives his enemies. This self-less death leads us to accept God’s love and forgiveness. Believers see pure love in his death and cannot resist its compelling power to follow in his way. We realize that Jesus makes us the most precious of all creatures, even worth dying for.

God initiates all of this and asks only that we accept the love, turn from our sin, and reform our lives. We don’t deserve and we cannot earn God’s love and forgiveness, but accepting it, we are freed by such faith. God provides the love; we provide repentance and renewal, becoming unified with God and others.

For Christians, Jesus’ death forms the focus on what God was doing through his life, death, resurrection, and the birth of the church. We are inheritors of the Early church’s experience of the new reality of Christ-still-alive and of new life in the Spirit that was viewed through the lens of the cross. And now in our day, we, too, can experience in the life of the church the community of love, no less than did Paul and the first Christians.

What we call the body of Christ, a living, flesh-and-blood reality, enables us to know Christ as a personal experience and not just a handed-down story. We are the continuation of the early community of believers within which everything about Christ happened. The church is our only link with the historic community that emerged from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is the only expression of Christ that we have, and even in its incompleteness, we, in our time, carry forward the new life of the Spirit of God.

We carry forward, too, the earliest expression of love based on Christ’s death in the Eucharist. From the earliest days of the church, the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, have marked our central act of worship and given substance as a way to keep Christ alive in the midst of the worshipping community. This has always been for Christians THE occasion of re-calling Jesus to our presence and empowering us to unite with him and one another. Through the church and through this sacrament, we continue to express the reality that Christ was and is alive and will continue to be alive among his followers.

This is the truth that sets us free: that God loves us, welcomes us, but also sees us and knows us and reveals to us the truth about ourselves, all the while extending his hand in which lay the gifts of forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and hope… living water for our souls He was at the Rock of Horeb and at the well of Jacob. Now we have been forgiven and healed, delivered from bondage and set free, we are to go and be channels of that living water to others – all others – in God’s name.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

1-7For the second Sunday of Lent, we move from Jesus’ retreat to the desert to his Transfiguration. Each year on the first Sunday of Lent, our Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. On the second Sunday of Lent each year, we hear the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration.

Moses also took three companions up a mountain and on the seventh day was overshadowed by the shining cloud of God’s presence. He too spoke with God and his face and clothing were made radiant in the encounter (see Exodus 24,34).

But in today’s Lenten Liturgy, the Church wants us to look back past Moses. Indeed, we are asked to contemplate what today’s Second Reading calls God’s “design . . . before the beginning of time.”

With his promises to Abram in today’s First Reading, God formed the people through whom He would reveal himself and bestow His blessings on all humanity.

We move now to the situation in Jusus’ day. Despite countless healings of the sick, large crowds coming out to hear him, miracles of feeding the hungry, they were still a small band of disciples. They surely wondered if the only reason people came out to hear him was for a diversion, and entertainment, a distraction from everyday drudgery. And maybe a good debate between the synagogue gurus and Jesus, just for fun.

And all that time they had wondered, seldom daring to ask, ‘Who are you?’

Now it seems like the threats and hatred are building to a crescendo, and Jesus wants to go up to Jerusalem. Surely he understands the danger to himself and to his small band of loyal followers?

But they keep following him, nevertheless. Pondering, bickering amongst themselves about who should be the greatest among them, and who should sit next to him in this kingdom he keeps talking about.

When Jesus invites three of his closest friends to come with him up on a mountain to pray, they willingly go, unprepared for what is to happen next.

Seeing Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus in a visionary experience, and then hearing a voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” is astonishing, in fact overwhelming. They fall to the ground in fear.

The experience of the Transfiguration is not possible to overstate. It comes to us full of meaning, as assurance of God’s affirmation of Jesus and our humanity. There is no need to explain it further. It is a singular experience given to all who seek to know who Jesus is, and what lies ahead for people of faith. Jesus radically recalls our humanity and affirms our nature with his divinity. The Kingdom of God has entered the world in human form, and we are called to witness to that Good News.

The Transfiguration and empowering Resurrection give the disciples the will to persevere, something bestowed on all of us in our Baptism. The same God who presides at the Transfiguration of Jesus and promises us that one day we will be transformed into his likeness, baptizes us into the faith that promises the transformation of people.

While that is glorious and reassuring, it does not give us permission to close the doors of our hearts and minds while we sit around and wait for the return of Christ. Rather, it empowers us to live like people of conviction and redemption in a world badly in need of both.

If we are to participate in Lent as an exercise of self-examination and repentance, let that be acted out with kindness and grace. If we are to mark the coming period with fasting and prayer, let it also be a time when we set aside personal pleasures and work for the relief of suffering of others. If Lent is to be a journey to the Cross, let it be a journey where we allow ourselves to be taken to places and people as God needs us, for that will pattern our lives after Peter, James and John and the other disciples.

Will there be days of frustration and doubt? Yes. But the mission to proclaim God’s kingdom and to witness it however we are called to do so remains unchanged.

The Transfiguration is our mountain top experience. While we might like to remain there, we return to the world to assist in God’s project, which is nothing less than the redemption of the world through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

As our Lenten journey continues, and the world presses in with voices of despair clanging in our ears, may we remember how to listen. For it is in listening that we truly hear one another.

This time of Lent challenges each of us to consider how well we are listening. And it is in listening that we hear the voice of God.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

1-2As we start our journey through Lent, our Sunday readings call us to adopt the same confidence that Jesus had in the face of temptation: God’s word alone will suffice; God’s promise of protection can be trusted; God alone is God.

In the first Reading for today, Adam and is given very clear instructions not to eat of the fruit of good and evil. While enjoying the physical presence of God and getting to eat from an abundance of fruit may not seem like a fast, it really was. Amid abundance, the sense that there was something not for them was too difficult for them to bear. It was an opportunity to deny their desire so that they could remain in right relationship with God. When they didn’t, they suffered the consequences. Adam and Eve offer a cautionary tale for us.

The Gospel for today affirms this message and adds to it in important ways. Jesus, coined the ‘second Adam’ St Paul, is led by the Spirit into a time of extreme fasting and temptation. While Adam and Eve had to avoid one fruit in paradise, Jesus braved a wilderness and consumed nothing.

It is here that Jesus is offered three distinct temptations. In the first, Jesus is tempted to overcome his hunger by using his power to turn stones into bread. The mere mention of bread was probably difficult for him to handle given how hungry he was. Jesus says no, citing that it is not by bread alone that one lives, but by the word of God.

In the second temptation Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and invited to throw himself down in order that the angels may save him. Now this might seem like an easier one to resist at first until it is considered just how isolated Jesus must have felt from everyone and especially the angels after an eternity with them. It would have been wonderful to experience their presence during this difficult time for him. Jesus again says no, refusing to put God to the test.

Finally, Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world, which are offered to him in exchange for worship. Jesus, on the precipice of embarking on his ministry and building his movement could have much more easily taught and influenced the world from this place but instead said no again, affirming the need to worship God and only God.

So, unlike Adam, Jesus resists temptation, passes the test, and goes onto live a ministry that changed the world and still brings life to many. The message, in contrast to Adam, is clear: spiritual discipline is good, so is abstinence, and Lent is a time to practice both and be right with God. Yet, if we pay closer attention we can learn so much more about how we might live a Holy Lent and for what reasons.

Looking again at the first temptation we see Jesus deny a desire but for what reason? Jesus does this to strengthen his focus on God. While avoiding biscuits or chocolate might be good for physical health it is not the path to everyone strengthening their focus on God. As we consider what we might give up think about what may give us the opportunity to focus more on God. Perhaps the offering is time in prayer.

In the second one Jesus denied the opportunity to be reminded just how much he mattered. Jesus was amid horrible isolation and often, isolation can lead people to manipulation of those around them to feel reminded of their connection and importance in community. To put it another way, what are the things that we do when we aren’t feeling appreciated, or connected, or valued? It would be good to consider these things and consider how we can embrace community and seek connection in healthier ways.

Finally, Jesus denied personal power so he could continue to embrace power with God. While power with God does not offer the same pride benefit and certainly made Jesus’ life and ministry more difficult it ultimately saved our world. In this we come to understand how embracing power with, as opposed to power over, can ultimately enrich our lives. And so, given all this, our call is to live a Holy Lent, beyond fasting and abstinence, to embracing the truths that will set ourselves free to live out the fullness of God’s mission.

As we start our journey through Lent, our Sunday readings call us to adopt the same confidence that Jesus had in the face of temptation: God’s word alone will suffice; God’s promise of protection can be trusted; God alone is God.

The Spirit of the Lord is in me and in you. Take heart in that. It is one thing to be honest about our weaknesses, and another to be held captive by them. Again, freedom comes from Christ. As we hear in John Newton’s hymn of faith: “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come, tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Uncategorized