Friday, June 22, 2018

"Do You Understand?"



"Do You Understand?"(John 13:12-18)


“When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. 'Do you understand' he said 'what I have done to you?’” (Jn 13:12)

      Christ’s Chosen Ones were only beginning to understand. Having just been washed by the Tender Fingers of God, they were drawn onto the precipice of a New Horizon. How could they be expected to understand the Heart of God? Why did Jesus wash their filthy feet? Not because they were dirty, but because he wanted to rip them out of an unexamined reality. He wanted to open their eyes to his Father’s Mission to Love. So it was, that he took on the position of a slave, to give them a glimpse into a Kingdom not enslaved to Self, but enslaved to Love.

“You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am.” (Jn 13:13)

      In order to grasp the magnitude of what had just taken place, the apostles needed to believe in the title with which they addressed Jesus. Jesus, Maste
r of all Powers seen and unseen, Lord of all Creation, submitted to the humblest of actions to reveal his Love. The Greatest became the Smallest; the Creator kissed the creature. (Jn 13:13)


“If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other's feet.”
(Jn 13:14)

      God is calling Man to become Godly. He is charging his disciples to a life of Love; to raise the lowly with the power of Lowliness; to see the Sinner as Beloved; to be an instrument for God.


“Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly.”
(Jn 13:17)

      This is an audacious promise, or, a Vision Revealed. What is this secret knowledge; what is the “this” that is the key to happiness? It is behavior according to Jesus –to be a lover for the Source Of All Love. This is his Word of Truth waiting to be unwrapped in faith. It is our commission to act in his Name: our co-mission with Jesus.

“I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.”
(Jn 13:18)

      This verse is packed with meaning. If we read it with our eyes wide open our hearts will bleed, so let us pray not to close our mind to its Truth. Jesus is saying that not all of his Chosen Ones choose him in return. He is speaking of Judas, the Son of Perdition; and he portrays him as “Someone who shares my table [and] rebels against me.”

      Jesus knew Judas with all his flaws, but that did not stop him from choosing him. He still loved him, still trusted him with his confidence –in spite of knowing that he would rebel against him and hand him over to death. How easy it is to loath Judas, to be enraged by this one who exchanged his Master’s Love for selfish gain. But, Jesus washed his feet.

      And what about us? Do we not share his table? Do we not eat his Body and drink his Blood, yet rebel against him? Does not Jesus know us whom he has chosen? But, he washes us clean and entrusts us to love with his Love. Do we understand the immensity of is Love for us? Do we understand the stupidity and smallness of our rebellion; or the price of our sin? 


      “I know the ones I have chosen…” The power in this Word is not that Jesus knows the identity of who he has chosen, for, in Truth, he has chosen every one of us. The miracle in this Word is that he knows the smallness of our hearts and still continues to choose us to serve in his Name. He believes in us when we do not believe in him. He trusts us to love for him when we do not trust in his Love for us. How can I remain a chosen son of God while in my heart I am yet a Son of Perdition?

      How did the Eleven become so different from the Judas they so resembled? Did they not argue among themselves for self gain? Doubt their Master? Abandon him? Deny him? What held off the fate they deserved? Surely it is because they found Forgiveness. They were so transformed by the Unchangeable Love of their Master that they became abhorrent to any thought or action that did not bring him pleasure. Being washed in his Love, they found the faith to behave according his Will.
 

     This Undeserving Love of Jesus is beyond my grasp. I cannot understand this Love; I can only Believe in it -because my Master has told me so. And I can Hope in it; that I will become what he sees in me -the son of his Father, his chosen brother. And if I too remain in his Love, then it will pour forth from me and wash the feet of his world; and I may ever grow into a faithful servant, freed from the smallness of my heart.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Look Upon Jesus

Look Upon Jesus (John 3:14-21)




“and the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (3:14-15)


     The apostle John takes us back a thousand years before the coming of Jesus.  The Israelites, turning against God and Moses, find themselves smitten by fiery serpents as a consequence of their sin.  With Death opening their eyes, they repent of their rebellion, and beseech Moses to intercede.  God relents and instructs Moses to raise up on a banner a bronze image of the serpent; and all who are dying in their Sin will live -if they look upon it.


     This foreshadowing of humanity’s journey -to faith through desperation- is both a reflection of our Depravity, and a revelation of God’s Mercy.  Upon this ancient prophetic act of God, John roots the Good News of our salvation.  The Sinless Son of God, taking on our Sin and Death, became a criminal -raised high on that banner of the Cross: that we might look upon him whom we have pierced, and find eternal life.



“Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” (3:16)


     This single sentence is a thimble that contains a universe, a Word that holds all understanding.  It is a keystone that welds two conflicting truths: a World reeling in its rebellion against God; and God’s Love for the World which is desperate for a Savior.

     
     Throughout his Gospel, John uses the term world to describe that which is an enemy to God –a self idolatry, a state of Darkness which chooses eternal death over obedience to God.  It is our fallen nature which, left to its own means, is lost to death.  Standing on this incontrovertible truth, John simultaneously proclaims that, for all whose eyes are opened by their Death Sentence, if they believe in Jesus, if they look upon him to be saved, then eternal life is theirs.
 

     That the Futility of our Sinfulness is so joined to the Hope of God’s Mercy can only be the fruit of Divine Grace -initiated by the urging of his Holy Spirit, with Jesus ever interceding before his Father for us, as did Moses intercede before God for the stricken Israelites.  If only we would not harden our hearts and listen to his Voice….


“For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. (3:17)


God had to send his Son because unless we witnessed Christ’s Unconditional Love and his death on the Cross, we could not have believed we were so loved.  We would have doggedly assumed our deserved condemnation.  Before we could receive his Love, we had to receive his Forgiveness.  God had to sacrifice his Son for us, before we could sacrifice our Self for him.  Before we could be open to his Love, we had to be freed of the fear of a condemning God.  Yet now, if we but look into the eyes of our Savior as he hangs dying on that Cross, we can never doubt his Forgiveness or Love.



“No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God's only Son.” (3:18)

 
     If Jesus was sent not to condemn, then where does condemnation come from?  It comes from our rebellious heart.  God has no part to play in condemnation, except in providing grace to avoid it.  Satan may tempt us, but it is we who choose it.  As in Matthew 25, we will all be judged -by what we have done, and by what we have failed to do.  And as in Sirach 15, verse 14 and 16, “He himself made man in the beginning, and then left him free to make his own decisions. …Man has life and death before him; whichever a man likes better will be given him.”  God’s grace is ever available, but never forced upon us.  We choose our eternity.  It is the reason we were brought into existence.  God wills all to be saved …yet many choose to remain outside his Will, refusing to look upon Jesus, lest they repent and be saved.




“On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.” (3:19)


     This is a bottom-line text.  There is no wiggle room here.  It is absolute.  It is God’s Word.  It is also the source of my deepest pain because some whom I have come to love have shown they prefer Darkness to Light, and I cannot bear the thought of that eternal consequence.  Some may say I am judgmental.  I wish it were true, then I would need only to repent and be unconcerned for their eternity.

     Here’s the rub: It is not up to us to decide what is evil.  It was established before time existed.  It is laid out in Sacred Scripture and Christ gave us his Church to show the way. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life -in which evil cannot coexist.  If we believe in him, then, we must live according to his Way, his Truth, and his Life.  This is called obedience.  Believing is not about feelings, or good intentions, or even espousing correct theology.  It is about our Faith surrendered to Grace –manifesting itself in the deeds of our life upon which we are judged.


     My pain for those living in disobedience –outside of his Way, Truth and Life- is that they seem convinced that sin is not really sin.  They are content to pit their version of “truth” against God’s Truth.  My sorrow for them cannot compare to the sorrow in our Lord’s heart, and so I can hope and pray with confidence that he will deliver them as he has delivered me, and continues to deliver me.




“And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed;” (3:20)


     Most of us, at first thought, would most fear what others might think should our sins come to light. But, with deeper introspection, we might come to see that it is our own conscience we fear most, for if we admit to our sin, then we would have to admit to our guilt. In turn, we would then
have to change our sinful habits. Exposed to his Light, we would have no peace until we surrendered our entire self into the Will of our Creator. It is our Unsurrendered Desires which cause us to shrink from the Light. Only faith in God’s Love will give us the courage to be exposed to his Truth.



“but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God;” (3:21)

 
     This last verse is a call to Holiness. It is a fearsome challenge to come before God naked, boldly asking him to have his way with us, regardless of cost, to purify our lives of everything that hinders his Holy Spirit from working freely in us.
 

     This is a deeply personal Word, with the Spirit calling us to be brutally honest with ourselves before him, not trusting our opinion of ourselves, whether high or low, but begging him to expose the ugliness of our sin, that we may be horrified at the thought of willfully disappointing our Creator.

     We cannot trust our conscience. We are more capable of deceiving ourselves than the cleverest devil. With a mere tinge of spiritual fog, I can justify almost anything I crave. My righteousness perilously hangs on the thread of utter submission to Grace. Every day I must beg God to pierce my Darkness with his revealing Light -that I might plainly see if what I do is done in God. I must beg God, because he waits for my permission to expose what I have hidden.
 


     My Lord, I am a sinful man. You know all things -how I hide from my sins, yet you patiently wait. I believe in your Saving Love. I look upon you for Life. Deliver me from my lowliness, My Jesus, My Savior, My God.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Lamps, Light and Love

Lamps, Light and Love

[Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.   Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps.   The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.  But at midnight there was a cry, "The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him."   At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, "Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out".  But they replied, "There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves".   They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed.  The other bridesmaids arrived later. "Lord, Lord," they said "open the door for us."  But he replied, "I tell you solemnly, I do not know you".  So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.] (Matthew 25:1-13)
         The context of this parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (literally, Virgins) is foreign to our marriage customs today.  Back then, after the marriage betrothal, the bridegroom would leave the bride with her father, and return to his father’s house to prepare a home for her.  When all was ready, he would then triumphantly return to claim with his bride.  The young unmarried bridesmaids would go out to greet and usher him in, and the community would celebrate the union.  This is my limited understanding of that ancient ritual.  The following is my imaginings of what our Lord’s parable might mean for us today.
         Most importantly, it is a love story –of our God who frames the culmination of life in Spousal Love.  That the Creator, of all that is, joins himself to us in the intimacy of a marriage union, can only be mystery to which everything else in the story points to.  As in all love stories, happiness is revealed against the contrast of tragedy.  Here, the Faithful are rewarded with Eternal Joy, while those who did not persevere to the end, were unable to pass through Judgment’s Door.
         This entire chapter is in fact, about the Great Judgment waiting to expose the film of our lives.  It is inevitable, inescapable, and there are no do-overs.  All humanity shares in the same drama: gifted with Life, destined for Love, we must struggle to accept or reject our Divine Purpose.  This opening parable, I believe, speaks to this Judgment, to what is required of us, and to what will insure our success.
         First, let us acknowledge that all ten bridesmaids set out to meet the Bridegroom.  Some were wise and some were foolish, but all had made the commitment to seek and join him; all of them discerned their Divine Purpose; all began the journey.  They were Virgins, they were saving themselves for the Husband of Their Dream; they were unattached, free to throw themselves without distractions into their calling.  And, if we were allowed to flesh out the details of this story, most certainly, there might be many other players beside the Ten: those who spurned the invitation to greet the Bridegroom; those who were not saving themselves for the Other, who only sought to please themselves; those who were beyond foolish, who were already Lost.
         The Ten, were a privileged lot.  They found their Purpose, their Meaning in Life.  They were a Consecrated People; set aside to bear light on the Light of Lights; to usher in the Source of all Light and join with him in Love.  So it was that all on the journey carried a Lamp Burning.  
         What can this all mean?  To be found with our light burning brightly is mission critical.  We will either pass or fail.  There is no second chance.  This is our common destiny, our unavoidable test.  That it will happen is certain, but when is never known.  
         The lamp’s Light is the Burning Fire of Love.  But, it is not for illuminating the path, ‘going as we do by faith and not by sight’ (2COR 5:7), for, “anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling(1JN 2:10).  Rather, our Light, our Love, is to be a Sign: that we may be identified; that the Bridegroom will not say of us, “I do not know you."  For, ‘everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.’ (1John 4:7).  Love is the reason for breath -what brings us into Eternal Light.     
Oil must burn before it becomes Light, and we must die before we can love.  The lamps then, are where Oil is sacrificed to become Light.  If light is the product of something consumed, then the lamps are Occasions of Love -where Self is sacrificed; where Selfish Desire is consumed by Grace; where Will submits to Obedience.  To carry a lamp is to be a Living Yes -to a God who only asks for Love.  To carry a lamp is to give witness -to be a Reflection of our Creator; to be a consecrated Vessel of Love.
The Oil is the fuel, the source, the Grace which ignites into Love.  It is the essence of our Living Yes, yet it comes not of our self, but of God –it is, in Truth, God himself.  That is why it is not our possession, to give away to one who has not.  It can only be attained through surrender.  The Oil is the Spirit of God, whose image we become in Love.  It is Mystery manifested; the Incarnate becoming carnate, and the carnate becoming Divine.  It is the Quintessence of Grace.
All of the Ten began with their lamps full of Oil, but only the sensible ones took flasks of oil.  They understood more would be demanded, that the night would take them where they could go no longer, where their youth would be humbled, their exuberance shriveled, where a blood moon would cast them as a shadow of the Cross.  Only the wise ones readied themselves for the midnight hour: where weariness closes eyes to Hope; where inner strength runs dry, and Darkness erases the memory of Sun.  They knew that only ‘Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall…’    
It was, in this Midnight Hour, that the Foolish Five left their watch.  Faith blinked within.  Fear of Emptiness drove them away -just inches from journey’s end.  It was also, in this Midnight Hour, that the Faithful Five dipped into their flasks of oil.  With flames burning bright, they shook off the Darkness and greeted the Bridegroom.  Radiant with Joy, the Night became a New Day.
          And what might be these Saving flasks of oil in our lives?  We cannot persevere in Love without Faith and Hope.  So, that which Anchors us in these virtues becomes our flasks of oil: Feeding on the Body and Blood of Christ; daily Prayer and Scripture; Christian Community -whatever calls us into Truth will root us in the Promises of God, where Fear and Darkness cannot coexist with the Light of Love.  Faith and Hope then, ever renewed, ever regenerated by Truth, guarantees that we will be found in Love; that with our Light burning brightly, we will be Recognized, and the Door will be opened unto us.

Monday, November 13, 2017

An Inopportune Invitation

An Inopportune Invitation

'There was a man who gave a great banquet, and he invited a large number of people.  When the time for the banquet came, he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come along: everything is ready now".   But all alike started to make excuses. The first said, "I have bought a piece of land and must go and see it.  Please accept my apologies."  Another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen and am on my way to try them out.  Please accept my apologies."  Yet another said, "I have just got married and so am unable to come.” … Then the householder, in a rage, said to his servant, "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." …“I tell you, not one of those who were invited shall have a taste of my banquet”.(Luke 14:16-24)
         In this parable, in the context of the moment, Jesus was illuminating the Jew’s rejection of God’s invitation, and how society’s outcasts will replace them as his Chosen People. This is dangerous to know, as it gives us cause to think it has nothing to do with us today.  His parables however, and the bad actors within, have everything to do with us today.  Their purpose is to disarm our pretences with a story, so that Truth may convert our hearts.
         It is not a great leap to see in this parable, that Jesus is also expressing his sadness for those today: who decline the Feast of his Body and Blood; or, for the Lost, who have no taste for his Eternal Banquet.  This insight too is dangerous, as we still may think he is not speaking to us who are hungering for things that do not fill.   And there is yet another Banquet to which he is calling us.  
         When the contemporaries of Christ broke bread together, it was much more than a social gathering.  It was a mingling of blood -it made you brethren.  So it is understandable that they were shocked by Jesus eating with the Pharisees.  But he was not scandalized then for commingling with sinners, nor is he today.  He still is the Physician who comes not for the healthy, but for the sick; and because we do not recognize our sickness, we also do not heed his invitation sup with him –to commune with him in our hearts; to receive his Quiet Presence; to consume his Words; to be consumed by his Love.  This is the Banquet to which we are called every day of our lives and forever -to share the intimacy of his Love in the communion of prayer; where we exchange sacred words and thoughts and secrets of heart.  
         Unlike in other parables, where the bad actors are conniving hypocrites, here, they –the Invited Guests- are normal, happy, hard working people, not unlike us.  They just all happened to be caught in a moment of fulfilling a dream of their life.  There was no crime, or immorality, or flaw in their character.  Their misfortune was that they were blessed with fortune.   They were so excited about it they could not be bothered by an inopportune invitation -to celebrate with the God of their blessing.  They were not guilty of premeditated sin; they were guilty of an unexamined life.  They failed to see that their dreams could not compare with God’s Dream for them.  They were too distracted by life to take time to commune with the God who gives them Life.
Jesus then, was not expressing vengeful indignation when he said …“I tell you, not one of those who were invited shall have a taste of my banquet.”  These Words are not cold and cruel; they are to the contrary, sorrowfully mourning the rejection of those who could not recognize the Voice of his Father.  He was only verbalizing the fate of  unexamined lives –of those who could not comprehend the privilege of his invitation, who submitted to the tyranny of the moment only to forfeit Eternal Joy.
Indeed, in the end, it was the Fortunate and the Comfortable who mindlessly rejected the invitation into God’s Presence –who believed their own excuses; and it was the Sick and the Poor whose desperation made them hungry for the Master’s Banquet –whose suffering opened their eyes to God’s Grace.
         Lord Jesus, every moment, every heartbeat is a privilege to be lived in your Grace.  I am attracted to trivialities.  I easily wander.  I am too small to grasp the grandeur of your Will.  Commingle your heart with mine -that I may live in you, with you and for you.  Holy Spirit, open my mind to Father’s Plan for my life.  Teach me to sit at the feet of my Lord; to exchange hearts with him; to receive him; to thank him; to worship him; to be possessed by his Love –to say yes to it with every breath. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fire, Not Peace?

Fire, Not Peace?

Jesus and his Passion
'I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!   There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over! (Luke 12:49-50)  
Jesus The Cause of Dissension
'Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.  For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three…(Luke 12:51-52)
            This is a hard Word -hard to understand and even harder to live.  Jesus is Love, so shouldn’t he be about making things all warm and cozy?  Certainly this is the prevailing view of our culture: ‘Let’s just all get along …You do what you believe, and I’ll do what I believe …You’re ok, I’m ok, it’s all ok.’  Yet, the words of Jesus bode otherwise.  
Luke 12:49-53, as above, is presented as two separate topics, but the second can only be correctly understood in the context of the first.  How is it that the Prince of Peace came to bring division?  The answer is in the first two verses.  Jesus came to bring fire to the earth:  A Fire that would arise out of his Baptism of Blood; a Fire that would be lit with the Passion of his Cross, with his Body, Soul, Mind and Divinity immersed into a Suffering that would forever remain burning in the hearts of Believers; purifying our body, soul, mind and humanity of Darkness and Sin –making us a people set apart (1Peter 2:9).
The Kingdom of God has a Warrior King, wielding the Sword of his Word, separating Sin from Truth, bringing about purification by Fire, that we may know his Peace.  His Sword never feels peaceful, yet we must suffer its purification, of all that is not in his Image, before we can know his Gift of Peace.  Yet, paradoxically, this Gift of Peace causes our hearts to bleed for those who know it not.  It is for this reason we can answer with all our heart both “Yes” and “No” the enigmatic question, “Is the Kingdom of God a kingdom of Peace?”  
Before God revealed himself to humanity we were without his Law, and, as St. Paul explains in Romans 7, sin was as dead, as there was nothing to be disobedient against.  This all changed when God began revealing himself to us through Abraham, the father of our faith.  Not surprisingly, from then on disobedience flourished.  But, when God saw that we were ready for a Savior, he came among us, as Jesus our Lord.  He gave us the fullness of his Word, and he released his Holy Spirit -to empower us to live that Word in the communion of his Church.
         Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God.  A kingdom cannot exist without boundaries.  So, when Jesus gave us his Word and established the authority of his Church on earth, he knew that in defining its boundaries, division was inevitable -that his Kingdom would be at war till the end of time defending those boundaries.  Forever more, humanity would be confronted with a forced choice: “Are you with me or are you against me?”  Until he comes again, the Kingdom of God will be at war with the forces of Darkness.  Those who choose to live within the Kingdom will forever be locked in battle with those who choose to live outside.  Those who abide in the Kingdom will know the Peace of Christ, but they will never be at peace with the forces of Darkness, nor with their separated brethren whom have fallen victim to it.
         So what do we do?  Do we throw up our hands, resigned to the fact that many are calling condemnation upon themselves, by warring against God?  Did not Jesus himself tell the Seventy-Two to shake the dust off their sandals and walk away from those who refused to repent?  Does not this give us permission to insulate ourselves within the walls of our church and forget about those destined to be Lost?  I believe certainly not.
         The Seventy-Two preached to a people before God’s Ocean of Mercy was released from the Cross; before Christ’s Death and Resurrection; before the Power of his Spirit was released on Pentecost, where he sent us out to make disciples of all nations.  We belong to the new Epoch of Hope.  We have been commissioned and empowered to bring God’s Mercy and Salvation to all God’s Children.
         Holy Spirit, may your Fire purify the sin in my heart, that I may become a Loving Vessel of your Mercy and Hope.  May your Fire consume me with a Zeal to bring your Good News to my family, my friends, to all who cross my path.  Thank you for saving me.  Use me, I pray, to further the bounds of your Kingdom, that you may be Glorified by a great chorus of hearts on Fire with your Peace.  Amen.

Friday, October 6, 2017

If You Love Me You’ll Love My Dog

If You Love Me You’ll Love My Dog

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, put a question, 'Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?'   Jesus said, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.'” (Matthew 22:34-40)

         As a young man, when I first heard the truism, ‘If you love me you’ll love my dog’, I was struck by its clarity, by its ability to condense the essence of friendship into a single sentence.  As I have grown in my walk with God, I cannot think of this truism without also thinking of his Great Commandments.  
         The first is to love God and the second is to love his Children.  The second “resembles” the first because, in fulfilling the second, we are fulfilling the first.  Both are fundamentally the same action.  If we love the Beloved’s Children, then we are loving the Beloved himself, for what we do to the least of his Little Ones, we do to him.
         Religion is our way of knowing God and expressing our faith in him.  1John 4:8 says, ‘anyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.’  Jesus frames the Great Commandments of Love by saying that all divinely revealed truth and laws -all religious structures- “hang” on them.  The verb hang, as on a string, offers a stunning image: If you cut the string, then religion is disengaged from love …and it falls and crashes into meaningless pieces.
         When the Pharisees and Sadducees posed life’s most important question to Jesus -What is demanded of me by God?- they were not seeking Truth but only to trip him up.  Instead, Jesus exposes their emptiness.  They went to great lengths to present their lives as pious, but their religiosity was devoid of love.  They were as empty tombs.  Jesus, never the less, offers them the Gift of Truth.  We too are offered the Gift which they spurned, that we may drink of his potent for our emptiness.
         Jesus gave us the First Great Commandment as the key to Eternal Life, but he was aware of the smallness of our nature, so he gave us the Second to insure it.  It is relatively easy to love a God who is Perfect Beauty, but to love his Children who have taken on sin and imperfection is another story.  And too, though God is All Desirous, he is yet Spirit.  He is abstract, unknowable to our senses, beyond the limitations of our mind.  It is for this as well, that we are mercifully given the Second Great Commandment, which allows us to do the impossible -to bring the First into fulfillment.  That is, by embracing the Children of God who we can see, we are embracing the heart of our God who we cannot see.  In the eyes of God, it is the same action.
         It is not unreasonable to say we cannot love God without loving his Children.  For certain, we cannot say we love God if we deny love to one of his Children.  This is a huge problem for me, as I have a permanent flaw in my character which forever whispers, “Your love belongs to those who deserve it.”  This whisper rings true at first, but the real problem is, my smallness wants to define who is deserving, while the vastness of God’s Mercy is calling me to much more.  In fact, everyone is deserving of my love -because all have been created by, and therefore are prized by, the God I serve.  
         My flesh, the Evil One, and the World, all, relentlessly urge me to place conditions on those who deserve my respect, my forgiveness -my love.   Because I have accepted God’s Forgiveness and Love, I am forever bound to respect, to forgive, to love His Beloved –to be in the image of he who made me new.
         If you love me, you’ll love my dog -who belongs to me because he has stolen my heart.   If I love God, then I must love his Children as well –not because they merit my love, but because they are cherished and belong to the God who has saved me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Put Out Into The Deep

Put Out Into The Deep

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, 'Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch'.(Luke 5:4)
         When I read these words a few weeks ago, they flashed on the page as if they were holding a vast wealth of untapped Truth.  I reflected on them but no particular insight came forth.  The context is a familiar story.  Peter, a professional fisherman, had worked hard all night long and caught nothing, then, just as he finishes cleaning his net, Jesus comes along and tells him to put out into the deep.  The day is now hot, Peter is exhausted, and it is an illogical thing to do, but he concedes to the Master’s advice, only to snag a catch of fish that threatens to tear his net.  He calls out to James and John for help, and the two of their boats are filled to the point of sinking, causing Peter to fall to his knees and cry out, 'Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man'.  Today, as I ponder the events of hurricane Irma that has ravaged our state, those flashing words have begun to take on new life.  
Two days before the storm, as it was taking aim, I threw a shovel into the pickup and went off to the county’s  emergency sandbag site.  It was a much harder effort than I anticipated.  I had to hold the bag with one hand and dump in the shovel of dirt with the other. I had to park about a half block from the sand pile and the rickety wheelbarrow could only handle two of the fifty pound bags, and then its wheel wobbled and squeaked the whole way, all up hill, as I pushed it through the many ruts.  
I was exhausted as I returned the empty wheelbarrow on the last trip.  Then I saw the elderly lady trying to fill a sandbag with a toy shovel.   It was a ridiculous sight.  How could she possibly think she could accomplish what humbled me with far greater strength?  That is when I realized I was looking at a woman of Great Faith.  She knew her God loved her and would provide for her.  She knew she only had to put out into the deep water and God would do the rest.  And that is when I knew I was sent to do the rest.
She held the bags open and I filled them with dirt, hauled them up to her car and loaded them into her trunk.   Half way up to her car, with two trips to go, I was feeling dizzy & stopped.  I prayed a short prayer for the Lord to give me strength.  With my head down and shoulders forward, I struggled to get the wheelbarrow started again, when two large arms attached to a young marine snatched up both sandbags –he was the Strength God sent my way, and he didn’t even use the wheelbarrow for the last two sandbags!  Later that day I returned with my daughter and our Lord sent two more young marines to help us finish.  God waits to fill our nets.
The day before the storm, my wife Katy put out to the deep.  Just on the other side of our property line is a giant dying oak tree.  It had a limb, about two feet at its base, which hung seventy-five feet out over to our shop.  She prayed to God that he would not allow it to fall on the roof.  The next morning we went out to survey the damage.  Katy fell to her knees and cried a prayer of thanksgiving.  The huge limb was twisted off, cast around its trunk, and off of our property.  Again, God was just waiting to fill our net.
We had no electricity for four days.  With a refrigerator and a garage freezer full of food, we were blessed to have the generator and fuel to keep them running, and run our water pump as well.  The generator is not big enough to run everything at once, so I had to turn fuses on and off according to need.  On the second day I made a serious mistake and accidentally turned on the main fuse which caused our little generator to be connected to all the houses and downed lines connected to our electric grid.  When I returned a few hours later to check on it, I saw it was no longer producing electricity, and realized what I had done.
Three times I pushed the overload reset buttons and checked with my meter, but it remained dead.  I turned the broken generator off and in the silence tried to come up with a plan to replenish our water, and to save some of the food.  I was dejected and upset at my careless error.  The prospect of its consequences drove me to an irrational act.  Without thinking, I laid my right hand on the dead generator and prayed, “Lord, I am calling on your Mercy.  I do not deserve to ask you this, but I know you can fix whatever is broken in this generator.  In your Name, Jesus Christ, I pray you will fix it.”
I felt silly praying that prayer, but desperation trumped my pride.  Without giving myself time to wonder about the prayer, I restarted the motor and the generator came back to life as if nothing ever happened.  It was my turn to fall to my knees in tears and thank God for his miraculous intervention. 
Who can fathom the mind of God or understand his motives?  It is futile to wonder why God took pity on me, a foolish sinner, while somewhere a mother may be burying a child.  What happens in the world of Faith is mystery.  Worthiness, logic, fairness, nor magnitude determines God’s response to our prayer. It is not for us to know how or why prayer works.  It is only for us to come before our Creator with Faith in his Love for us.  It is for us to put out into deep water …to throw ourselves into the Ocean of His Mercy.  This I know, he cannot fill our nets unless we do.
Holy Spirit, do not allow me to pass by the chance for my Lord to show his Love.  Give me a heart quick to pray.  Fill it with Faith in your Love and Mercy.  Grant me the love and courage to pray for others who are in need of only what you can offer.  Thank you Lord for loving me, for providing for me, for being Faithful when I am found wanting.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Parable Of The Sower

Parable Of The Sower

'You, therefore, are to hear the parable of the sower.
13:19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path.
13:20 The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy.
13:21 But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once.
13:22 The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word and so he produces nothing.
13:23 And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.' (Matthew 13:18-23)
         For me, this parable has been a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing -I couldn’t see the complete picture.  I have had a quirk in my thinking when it came to absorbing what Jesus was saying: The soil that the seed fell on had no choice in its ability to give life to the seed.  This perceived sense of determinism always distracted me from the fullness of the message.
         As I reflected on these familiar words in my prayer time this morning, a new way of receiving them emerged –the Holy Spirit never gives up on me.  I found a key to understanding it in Jesus’ initial explanation, in verse 19, in the words “was sown in his heart”.  The Seed is sown in our heart, and it is what happens in our heart, which allows the Seed to accomplish its purpose, or prevents it from blooming into New Life.
         If there is determinism involved, it is that our Loving Father created us to know and love him for all eternity; that he is Eternally Determined to Hope -that we will choose to receive and return his Love; that we will use our existential freedom to find our True Destiny in him, and not use it to create our own destiny apart from him.  It is with this Divine Courage that God loves us, like parents sending their child off to college.
         But what is this Seed that is planted in our heart?  Again, verse 19 tells us that the Seed is what we have heard, and what we have heard is the Word of God –it is Truth, with a capital tee, that is inserted into our spirit as Pure Gift, as Grace; and then, our response to that Gift determines how it percolates into our mind and becomes expressed in the character we manifest.
As the condition of the soil allows the seed to germinate, so too the condition of our heart will determine the fruit we bear.  If God’s Word is received with faithful obedience, then our Fiat will put flesh on that Word and it will become Incarnate in our life, and to those whom we touch.  Our heart condition will determine our eternal Life or Death.  Jesus relates the conditions of our heart to various conditions of soil: three of which leads to Death and one which leads to Life.
The first fatal heart condition is Not Understanding the Word.  Jesus is not referring to an intellectual or theological understanding of the Word as much as knowing the Word.  If we do not know the Word, who is Jesus, then we do not know Jesus.  When we do not listen to the Word we hear preached; when we do not ponder his Word that leaps off the page in prayer; we remain ignorant to the Pearl of Great Price, leaving it unguarded, allowing Satan to steal it away along with our Soul –not understanding what we have lost, or that we were even in a battle.   
         The second fatal heart condition is Spiritual Weakness.  It is lacking the roots of Church authority, of Christian community.  It is falling prey to the illusion of individualism – having rejected the suffering of laying down roots, we accept with joy God’s Gifts, but when trial inevitably presents itself, we have nothing to cling to but our delusions of independence.  Satan crushes our house of cards, despair and hopelessness rushes into the void.
         The third fatal heart condition is Greed, the lure of riches.  It is the idolatry of self, where the desire to please God is subordinate to pleasing our self.   It is an insidious condition, even innocent at first -often beginning with the pursuit of things good.  But like cancer, it grows imperceptibly, slowly, extending its desirous tentacles -until pleasing self chokes off the Saving Blood of Christ.  The thought of repentance, at this point, is unthinkable.
         The one heart condition that leads to Eternal Life is the heart that hears the Word and Understands it.  It understands because this heart has made itself available to the Word, it has submitted itself to the Word and not the Word to itself.  This heart understands because it has become intimate with the Word.  It knows the Word as Adam knew Eve and bore a child.  It knows the Word as a bridegroom knows the bride and they bear Sacred Fruit.  This heart abandons itself into the Love of God, fearless, certain of The Other’s intention for Good –Joyful, for what tomorrow will bring, and willing to Endure whatever will bring tomorrow.
         Holy Spirit, enlighten the eyes of my heart that I may recognize the sin in my life.  Jesus, emblazon your Sacred Heart before me, may I have eyes only for you.  Abba, Father, behold your child.  Your Love stands me here, before you now.  You called me into being; you redeemed me by the Blood of your Son; you have breathed your Word into my heart and sealed me in your Spirit.  Receive me, my Lord.