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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Early in his career the lyricist, Sheldon Harnick, wrote a song called “The Merry Minuet” which was made popular by the Kingston Trio back in 1959 and again in 2000.  Four lines from that song have stuck with me.  They are: “The whole world is festering with unhappy souls, The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles. Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch.  And I don't like anybody very much!!”  By the end of the song all of us have been destroyed by natural disasters or each other.   This is a sad song with a very catchy tune.  And it is as relevant now as it was when Sheldon Harnick wrote it.  

There seems to be something in human nature that causes us to distrust, dislike and disdain people who aren’t like us.  However, in today’s readings from Isaiah, St Paul’s Letter to the Romans and St Matthew’s Gospel, we hear that the Kingdom of Heaven is big enough to accommodate all of us. God does not care about our ethnicity, race, age, religious affiliation, physical or mental ability, social status, wealth, gender or profession.  God’s house is “a house of prayer for all peoples” (IS 56: 7).  This was a challenging message for the people who heard Isaiah’s words, Jesus’ words and St Paul’s words.   It is a challenging message for us too. 

Even Jesus initially rejected the Canaanite woman in our Gospel today saying, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"(MT 15:24).   She was a Gentile and as a Canaanite, she was an ancestral enemy of the Jews.  Observant Jews regarded Canaanites as idolaters and ritually unclean.  Of course, being a woman didn't help matters.  She had no business approaching Jesus about anything.  But she did because she recognized that there was something extraordinary about him.  Her great love for her sick daughter gave her courage and compelled her to approach Jesus even when she knew he might reject her.  Not only did Jesus reject her, he insulted her, calling her a dog.  However, the power of her love, her quick wit, humility, persistence and great faith carried the day.  Jesus responded to her plea and healed her daughter, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (MT 15: 28). 

By healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter Jesus demonstrated that God’s mercy and love extend far beyond our human limitations. It is not just for us Christians.  God’s love is there for anyone who believes.  As St Paul tells us “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” so that He “might have mercy upon all” (ROM 11: 29, 32).  

Almighty God, ever-loving Father,
Your care extends beyond the boundaries of race and nation
to the hearts of all who live.
May the walls, which prejudice raises between us,
crumble beneath the shadow of your outstretched arm.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s first reading (1 Kings 19: 9a, 11 - 13a) and the gospel (Matthew 14: 22 – 33) we hear about two very different encounters with God. Elijah, cowering in fear in a cave on Mt Horeb, encounters God in “a tiny whispering sound.” While Peter encounters Jesus in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Although the circumstances are different, Elijah and Peter are in crisis.

I think it is safe to say that many of us encounter God in times of crisis. It is when we are in crisis that we can put aside our pride and sincerely call out to God for assistance. One of my favorite stories about an encounter with God in a time of crisis is the story of John Newton (1725 – 1807). John Newton was a wild and reckless English sailor. He was, in his own words “an infidel and libertine.” On May 10, 1748 Newton was caught in a violent storm at sea and he experienced what he called his “great deliverance.” In the midst of that storm, convinced that all was lost, Newton cried out to God over and over again, “Lord have mercy on us.” The ship was saved and Newton became a changed man. After years of struggle, Newton was ordained a minister and served the Church of England for 44 years.

St Francis de Sales wrote, “We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear. Let us take breath, and go on afresh.” In their time of need Elijah, Peter and John Newton called out to God and they were saved. The love and compassion of God did not fail them and it will not fail us. None of us is perfect yet in spite of all our failings we can go forward knowing that God is with us always.

Although they were not perfect people, Elijah, Peter and John Newton all left us faith legacies. Elijah is considered the greatest prophet; St Peter is considered the father of our church and John Newton wrote one of the greatest hymns of all time, Amazing Grace.

God our Father, we believe in you, in your love and in your care.
 But you know our faith is often tried by doubt, uncertainty and fear. 
Make our faith strong enough to believe that your Son Jesus is with us always.
 Give us the courage to come across the water with him
 to commit ourselves to you and to others.
Even though we do not see his hand reaching out to us and holding us, 
give us enough trusting faith to be certain that with him we shall overcome. 
Build up your kingdom among us, until Jesus leads us across to you,
 our God for ever and ever.


Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration and commemorate the 39th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI. When Pope Paul VI died in 1978, I remember thinking how appropriate it was that he went to heaven on the Feast of the Transfiguration. I imagined the Holy Father wearing radiant white robes standing before St. Peter and quoting from St. Paul: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance” (2nd Timothy 4: 7-8).

During the 15 years of his Papacy, June 21, 1963 – August 6, 1978, Pope Paul VI continued the Second Vatican Council initiated by Pope John XXIII and directed the implementation of its Constitutions. He established the Synod of Bishops and he was the last Pope to be crowned. He donated his Papal Crown, a gift from his own Archdiocese of Milan, to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. as a gift to American Catholics. He worked towards reconciliation between the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church and he traveled extensively, visiting five continents. Pope Paul VI was the first Pope to travel by plane and he was the first Pope to visit the United States.

Pope Paul VI published what is probably the most controversial encyclical in modern times, Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1968. Humanae Vitae reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on issues pertaining to human life. My favorite quotation by Pope Paul VI is, “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”

God and Father of Jesus, you transfigured your Chosen One 
and in heavenly light revealed him as your Son. 
 Open our ears to the living Word and our eyes to his glorious presence,
 that we may be strengthened in time of fear and uncertainty,
 and one day share your glory.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
 who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God for ever and ever.

Friday, July 28, 2017

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday we read the final three parables about the Kingdom of Heaven found in Matthew 13.  In these parables Jesus describes the Kingdom as a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price and a net full of fish. The parables are not really about treasures, jewels and fish.  They are about what we are willing to sacrifice to enter the Kingdom.  

There is a subtle difference between the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.  In the parable of the hidden treasure, the man who found the treasure was not looking for it.  He found it by luck and, probably, some good plowing.  On the other hand, the man who found the pearl of great price was seeking pearls.  The outcome of both parables is that each man found his treasure and each was willing to sacrifice everything (joyfully) to possess that treasure.  They understood what the rich young man Jesus encountered in Matthew 19: 21 - 22 could not comprehend:   "’If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” 

This brings us to the parable of the fishing net.  Like the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus reminds us once again that sorting out good from evil is not our responsibility.  It is our responsibility to gather as many fish as possible into our net.  It is up to God and only God to determine who is in the Kingdom and who is not.  

The good news is that God wants all of us to be in the Kingdom.  As Jesus told his followers in Luke 12:  31 – 34, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”   

God of eternal wisdom,
you alone impart the gift of discernment.
Grant us an understanding heart,
so we may value wisely the treasure of your kingdom,
gladly reject all lesser gifts,
and accept with gratitude the ones you alone can give.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

Monday, July 10, 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s gospel, Matthew 13: 24- 43, is a continuation of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom.  Last week we heard the parable about the sower.  This week we hear Jesus comparing the kingdom of heaven to a field planted with wheat and weeds, a mustard seed and yeast.  Just as he explained the parable of the sower, Jesus explained the parable of the wheat and weeds to his disciples.  We are left to work out for ourselves the parable of the mustard seed and the yeast.  

When Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven to his followers, he was not talking about some place where we will end up in the future.  He was talking about the here and now.  For us the kingdom is Peachtree City, Georgia in 2017.  For others, it is wherever they are right now.  The kingdom doesn’t have any boundaries or borders because it is made up of a collective of people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to us to bring us salvation.   It is where God’s values of love, truth, compassion, justice, mercy, forgiveness, trust and respect prevail.  

The parables of the mustard seed and yeast are about tiny things that produce amazing results.  The small mustard seed produces a huge plant that in turn produces thousands of seeds. And a small amount of yeast grows and transforms dough into multiple loaves of bread.  Each of us is like a mustard seed or a pinch of yeast.   We all have the potential to produce amazing results for the kingdom.  If we allow our lives to be transformed by gospel values, we in turn can transform the lives of those around us by how we live those values.  

Merciful and patient God,
Let your word, like a mustard seed,
bear rich fruit within us,
and like a little yeast,
produce its effects throughout the whole church.
Thus may we dare to hope
that a new humanity will blossom and grow
to shine like the sun in your kingdom
when the Lord of the harvest returns
at the end of the age.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus used stories, parables, to explain the kingdom of heaven.  Beginning this Sunday and for the next two Sundays, we will hear Jesus tell several different parables describing the kingdom in common, everyday language using common, everyday images.  Today we have the Parable of the Sower.  Next Sunday we have the Parable of the Man Sowing Good Seed and the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  And on July 24th we will hear Jesus presenting the Kingdom of Heaven as a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price and a fisherman’s net.   

When the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables, he answered, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.  ... they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand" (Matt. 13: 11, 13).   Jesus was not trying to repress or hide the truth.  He says, "Whoever has ears ought to hear" (Matt. 13: 9).  

 However, many who did look and hear, particularly the orthodox leaders of the day, chose not to see or understand.  They rejected Jesus and threw him out of the synagogues.  So, Jesus took his message to the people.  He preached wherever people gathered, in market places, town squares, by the sea, in the fields and in people's homes.  He brought a message of hope, telling stories in language he knew they would understand with concrete examples from their daily lives: farming, fishing, commerce, cooking and relationships.
No matter what imagery he used, Jesus' message was consistent, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10: 7).  The kingdom is here, present, now and it is open to you.  Turn your lives around and follow me.  For the disciples, the devout followers and those of us who did and do open our eyes to see, our ears to hear and our hearts to understand, Jesus offers a blessing:  blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.  Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matt.13: 16 -17).   When our eyes, ears and hearts are open to understand Jesus' message, when we accept the message and when we incorporate that message into the way we live, Jesus becomes a living presence in our world.  

God of the heavens,
God of the earth,
all creation awaits your gift of new life.
Prepare our hearts to receive the word of your Son,
that we may hear it, understand it,
and bear fruit a hundredfold.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Meekness is not a value to which many of us aspire.   Even though Jesus told us in the Beatitudes that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), do we believe it? The poet Sylvia Plath commented, “I don't believe that the meek will inherit the earth; The meek get ignored and trampled.”    I suspect that Sylvia Plath’s view of  meekness is the most prevalent one.   The Oxford Dictionary definition for meek is straightforward, “humble and submissive; suffering injury etc. tamely” and “piously gentle in nature.”   

However, Biblically, meekness has a completely different meaning.  In seminary, we were taught that “meekness is not weakness.”   When Zechariah wrote the verses in our first treading today, “See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass,” he was not referring to a weak and wishy-washy person.  This king will banish the instruments of violence and establish peace.  And, “His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zec 9: 10).  This king is strong.  When Jesus describes himself in today’s Gospel from Matthew 11: 25 – 30 as “meek and humble of heart,” he is not insinuating that he is a doormat.  

My favorite simple definition of meekness is strength under control.    What solidifies this definition for me is the image of the yoke that Jesus uses.  He says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  A yoke in those days was a curved piece of wood fitted on the neck of two oxen teaming them together so they could pull a plow.  There isn’t anything much stronger than an ox which is why we say he/she “is as strong as on ox.”  With the yoke attached the oxen are strength under control.  Which bring me to another definition of meekness that really resonates with me.  

Michael Krauszer writes in Patheos:  Hosting the Conversation on Faith, an ecumenical blog, that, “Meekness, according to the Bible, is being humble and gentle towards others and willingly being submissive and obedient to the Lord. It is not being selfish and arrogant, loud or obnoxious. Rather, it’s having a quiet but confident trust in the Lord and being willing and able to do whatever it is He commands” (October 7, 2015).    

Citizenship in the Kingdom of God requires meekness, strength under control.  We are asked to put our egos aside, consolidate our strengths and put them into the hands of God our Father so that together we can build a world of peace and justice. 

To the childlike, O God, you reveal yourself,
and on those who are meek and humble of heart
you promise the inheritance of your kingdom.
Refresh our weary spirits
with the teaching of Christ,
that with him we may shoulder the gentle yoke of the cross,
and proclaim to everyone
the joy that comes from you alone.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. 
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